Mills Administration Announces Conversion of Abandoned Railroad Bed to Multi-use Trail

November 30, 2021

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Augusta - The Mills Administration announced today that an abandoned Maine Central Railroad Company corridor is being converted to a new multi-use trail. The trail, known as the Madison Branch, spans 32 miles across Kennebec and Somerset Counties and will become a major connector to the Maine Interconnected Trail System (ITS) and Maine ATV Trail System (MATS). The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) closed last week on the Madison Branch purchase from Pan Am Railways at the cost of just over a million dollars.

"Snowmobiles and ATVs are as much a part of the Maine outdoor experience as hiking boots, snowshoes, and skis," said Governor Janet Mills. "My Administration has listened to our off-road recreational vehicle riding community who wants to be able to travel long distances, legally and safely, and have a good time. The addition of the Madison Branch provides that resource and will support local businesses and strengthen the economy throughout the region. I am proud of the work my Administration has done to support conservation and recreational opportunities across Maine."

"The Bureau of Parks and Lands team has worked thoroughly to finalize this important acquisition," said DACF Commissioner Amanda Beal. "Together with the Land for Maine's Future Program, we are strategically connecting regional trail riding opportunities and other recreational uses that also will serve the larger community."

The trail passes over the Kennebec River and the Carrabassett River, offering spectacular views. These water crossings are traversed with trestles that will eventually provide safe passage over these rivers for recreational purposes. When construction is complete, the trail will connect thousands of miles of local ATV and snowmobile trails and allow ATV riders and snowmobilers to travel from Oakland to Bingham and beyond, including the Moosehead Lake Region. The route will also be available for non-motorized recreation, including hikers, bikers, and skiers. Local communities and recreation advocates widely supported the purchase of the trail.

"The acquisition of the Madison branch railbed is a major step forward for our region's economy. The interconnectivity between recreational areas will be a positive impact on generations to come," said Norridgewock Town Manager Richard Labelle. "Norridgewock is fortunate to have such strong partners at the State and in our local sportsmen associations that will continue to see this project through to its final stages of development. A cohesive trail system will be good for the health and wealth of Central Mainers as we work to create an expanded trail network for outdoor recreation."

"After many years of diligent work by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands along with numerous interested parties, I am very pleased to see the acquisition of the Madison Branch rail trail," said Senator Bradlee Farrin. "Trail users, students, and educators from Oakland to Jackman will benefit by the increase in miles of trail, and our local economies will be boosted as restaurants, gas stations, and stores will see an increase in business. I am thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of the process that led to the purchase of the trail, and I look forward to the positive impact it will have on central Maine and Somerset County."

The Land for Maine's Future Program (LMF) was a critical component to the States success in acquiring the Madison Branch rail segment from PanAm, contributing $508,000, nearly half of the funds necessary to complete the acquisition. The Northern Border Regional Commission was pivotal in matching the LMF funding. This project was particularly compelling to the LMF Board due to its location, accessibility to the public, and potential to serve as an economic catalyst to central Maine businesses located along the trail.

Governor Mills' most recent budget provides $40 million over four years to replenish the LMF. Prior to this $40 million infusion, the fund was nearly depleted. Now LMF can continue its robust conservation efforts, and the Mills Administration, in collaboration with the LMF Board, has already announced a call for proposals for new projects - the first since 2017.

The Madison Branch rail trail will pass through central Maine towns, including Oakland, Fairfield, Norridgewock, Madison, Anson/North Anson, and Embden. Snowmobilers will connect to the ITS through the new route, and ATV riders will connect to MATS 115, the only ATV trail connecting Oxford and Franklin Counties with Somerset, Piscataquis, and Penobscot Counties. Additionally, the trail is close to five schools, with several directly abutting the corridor. Once fully functioning, the rail trail will serve as a recreational resource available for users of all ages and abilities. Public notice and an abutter notification have occurred in conjunction with the purpose.

Conversion of the existing rail line into a recreational trail will require additional funding and may take two years. The Bureau of Parks and Lands Off-Road Vehicle Program looks forward to working with local clubs to implement the needed trail work and ongoing maintenance.