In a brief ceremony attended by dozens of supporters, MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole, Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan and State Senator Kevin Raye officially opened the first segment of the Calais Branch Rail Corridor Rehabilitation and Down East Sunrise Trail Wednesday morning in Machias.
This 32-mile section of multi-use trail stretches from Route 1 in Machias to Ayers Junction in Pembroke. This portion of the trail is open and complete with a compacted gravel surface, improved drainage and new bridges.
This is the first section of the full 85-mile long, multi-use Down East Sunrise Trail to open. Rehabilitation on the remainder of the rail corridor will continue into November, with the full length of the trail expected to open next summer.
“The opening of this 32-mile trail section not only preserves the rail corridor for future use, it opens up recreational and economic opportunities for the Downeast region,” said MaineDOT Commissioner David Cole. “This rail corridor is an extremely important transportation asset, and rehabilitating the rail corridor enables the state to preserve the ability to return rail transportation to the eastern part of the state.”
The Calais Branch Corridor Rehabilitation Project is an interagency effort that is rehabilitating and preserving the entire 85-mile rail corridor for future rail use as well as providing a wide, gravel-based, multi-use trail for snowmobilers, ATVs, pedestrians, bicyclists, cross country skiers, equestrians, and others.
“We know that active outdoor recreation creates sustainable, long-term economic growth and community development throughout Maine, and that is happening here in Washington County as well with the Down East Sunrise Trail,” MDOC Commissioner Patrick McGowan said. “This wonderful new trail is one more exciting attraction in Washington County, which already boasts such spectacular sites and travel destinations as the West Quoddy lighthouse or the Cutler Coast.”
The multi-use trail addition is expected to enhance economic and recreational benefits to the Washington and Hancock County areas, similar to what has happened along other rail trails in Central and Northern Maine. Some of the economic benefits include increased visits by tourists to area attractions, increased hotel and motel occupancy and more visits to local restaurants and support businesses, such as convenience stores and gas stations.
Vaughn Thibodeau & Sons of Bangor, the contractor for the construction project, has removed nearly all the rail and rail ties from the 85-mile corridor. Drainage and surface work continues in the section from Machias east to Cherryfield and into Unionville.
Those using the trail are reminded that the remainder of the trail from south of Route 1 in Machias to Washington Junction in Hancock is still under construction and remains closed.
MaineDOT purchased the Calais Branch Corridor from Maine Central Railroad in 1987, in order to preserve the corridor for future rail use. Governor John Baldacci directed MaineDOT to work with rail preservation groups, trail groups, as well as the Downeast community to devise a long-term plan that would preserve the corridor for rail, but provide for an interim recreational use until rail returned.
The Sunrise Trail Coalition worked with communities in the Calais Branch Corridor region for several years to develop a vision and plan for the creation of an interim multi-use trail along the corridor. After many years of study, Governor Baldacci assigned MaineDOT the task of developing a management and maintenance plan for the corridor, including the multi-use trail, in July 2005.
This project, overseen by both DOC and MaineDOT, removes the substandard rail, repairs washouts, places decking over bridges, rehabilitates the corridor, and constructs an 85-mile multi-use trail with parking lots. Rehabilitation of the corridor is expected to cost $3.9 million.
DOC will manage and maintain the trail and corridor until circumstances warrant the return of rail use to the area.
The scenic rail corridor runs along the entire Downeast coastal area, connects multiple scenic conservation areas, intersects Downeast salmon rivers, and is very near two state designated scenic highways.
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