East Coast Greenway momentum grows in Maine

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Scenic Bug Light is located on the East Coast Greenway and Eastern Trail in South Portland, Maine.

Boasting 130 miles of protected pathways and some of the most iconic segments of the entire East Coast Greenway, Maine is often cited as a highlight for many long-distance Greenway goers. With nearly 400 miles of the spine route - and another 150 miles of coastal route - there is still plenty of work to be done to complete the Greenway in the Pine Tree State. However, thanks to many recent developments, support is building to complete greenways for all across the state. 

“The number of ‘wins’ for the East Coast Greenway in Maine so far in 2023 is extremely exciting and bodes well for the future of a connected East Coast Greenway route through the state,” said Kristine Keeney, Northern New England Manager for the East Coast Greenway Alliance. “I am grateful for the support of passionate local partners and elected officials who see the benefits of safe, protected pathways for their local communities.”

In mid-April, Keeney joined supporters of the proposed Maine Trails Bond (LD 1156) at a State House news conference for the release of a letter to Maine lawmakers from more than 260 groups, demonstrating both the significance of trails to Maine people and businesses and the level of support for investing in connected and accessible trail systems. 

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Supporters of the proposed Maine Trails Bond held a State House news conference on April 12, 2023.

The Maine Trails Bond was introduced by Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond) and Sen. Russell Black (R-Franklin County), with co-sponsor support from three other Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent. Alliance staff members are working during this Maine legislative session with organizations and elected officials from all parties to pass the Maine Trails Bond legislation, which would provide $30 million in grant funding over four years for the design, development and maintenance of non-motorized, motorized and multi-use trails.

“Now more than ever, trails are critical to our quality of life and the health of Maine people,” said Rep. Fay in a press release. “During the pandemic, we discovered trails that we didn’t know existed, but we also discovered that we take our trails for granted. As a state, we invest almost nothing in our thousands of miles of trails. This bond would help us realize a compelling vision that features accessible trails that enrich our lives, communities, and economy.”

The year kicked off with Keeney and the East Coast Greenway’s Maine-based National Greenway Director Allison Burson in attendance at the inauguration ceremony and celebration for Maine Governor Janet Mills.

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Northern New England Manager Kristine Keeney (right) with Maine Governor Janet Mills. (Photo: Steven Bridges)

Later in January, Greenway partners at the Eastern Trail Alliance announced the completion of the final easement for the Close the Gap project connecting Scarborough and South Portland, Maine, meaning construction can begin soon on an important project that will create a continuous off-road pathway from Wainwright Field in South Portland through the scenic Scarborough Marsh,  closing a key gap of 1.6 miles. 

“It will open up a little over a mile and a half of an incredibly beautiful area that people haven’t really had a chance to see because there hasn’t been a connecting trail. And maybe even most importantly, it’ll take the current trail off road in busy traffic and less than ideal conditions,” Jon Kachmar, the executive director of the Eastern Trail, told News Center Maine.

The Maine Department of Transportation also released its first-ever active transportation plan, which was the result of legislative work by the East Coast Greenway and its partners at the Maine Trails Coalition in a previous legislative session. The plan highlights that “MaineDOT recognizes the hard work and vision put forth by many stakeholder organizations in the ‘Maine Active Transportation Arterials’ report; this vision could provide an array of benefits to the communities along these trail segments as well as the entire state.” And that “building on this vision, MaineDOT will work collaboratively with stakeholders, municipalities, and many others” to work towards prioritizing and implementing this vision.

Also in January, MaineDOT’s Portland to Auburn Rail Use Advisory Council agreed “to support creation of a bicycle and pedestrian trail along a 26.5-mile, state-owned rail corridor” between Auburn and Portland, according to The Lewiston Sun Journal. This segment would create a key portion of the Casco Bay Trail, a proposed 72-mile loop linking Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Brunswick, Maine. 

Most recently, Sen. Susan Collins secured $7.8 million of Congressionally directed federal funding (often known as earmarks) for Eastern Trail on-road improvements in Saco and Biddeford, which will make improvements to a high-crash location, pedestrian and bicycle lanes and intersections. This funding was the largest chunk of a record $22.4 million in recently announced earmarked funding for East Coast Greenway and Greenway-adjacent projects. Burson visited Sen. Collins’ office in Washington, D.C., in March as part of the National Bike Summit to thank her for her support for trails and ask for her continued work to secure additional funding for trails in Maine.

National Greenway Director Allison Burson (left) with Maine Sen. Susan Collins (Official U.S. Senate photo by Rosa Pineda)

These first-quarter developments in Maine build upon a successful 2022 for Keeney and our local partners. 

In May 2022, Rep. Chellie Pingree and members from the Eastern Trail Alliance and the East Coast Greenway Alliance celebrated $700,000 in new federal funding to expand the Eastern Trail 11 miles from Kennebunk to North Berwick, supporting the development of an active transportation corridor and recreational trail that offers significant social, economic and environmental benefits.

In addition, four new trail segments in Maine earned official East Coast Greenway designation in 2022, matching Massachusetts for the most among any state last year. The new segments include the third phase of the Brewer Riverwalk, phases one and two of the Cobbossee Trail in Gardiner and the Route 1 & Route 88 intersection in Falmouth. 

“We continue to see increasing interest in the East Coast Greenway from people looking for safe, sustainable transportation options for short commutes near home and from regional, national and international visitors looking for beautiful trails to visit and enjoy,” said Burson. “Maine and Florida are often cited as the most popular trail vacation destinations on the East Coast Greenway, and we love seeing the growing economic impact as these states invest in trails.”

Sustained growth in impact and momentum throughout the state of Maine is made possible by East Coast Greenway Alliance philanthropic partners, including the Quimby Family Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Onion Foundation, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, the Maine Community Foundation and other generous donors throughout the beautiful Pine Tree State.

Together, let's grow the Greenway

Recent record-setting funding for design and construction goes directly to building the East Coast Greenway - as it should. The East Coast Greenway Alliance needs your support to continue our advocacy work that is fueling completion of the Greenway. The Alliance has a sustained track record of turning every dollar donated to our nonprofit into $100 in public infrastructure investment. Invest today and support the growth of the East Coast Greenway from Maine to Florida.