Hard work leads to Mountain Division ‘Rail Trail’ reality

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

MOUNTAIN DIVISION RAIL TRAIL DEDICATION — ceremony participants at the Visitors Center in Fryeburg Oct. 14 included, from left, John Weston, Fryeburg Town Manager Sharon Jackson, Mountain Division Alliance President Dave Kinsman, Dan Stewart of the Maine Department of Transportation, State Senator Dave Hastings, Fryeburg Selectmen Chairman Ed Wilkey and State Representative Helen Rankin. (Ackley Photo)

FRYEBURG — The driving rain didn’t drive away those who wanted to participate in the joyous occasion of formally dedicating the one and one-half mile length of the Mountain Division Rail Trail that will connect the Visitors Center on Route 302 to Porter Road.

Those joined together for the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday cheered on several members of the Fryeburg Academy track team, as they ran in the pouring rain toward the Visitors Center, to kick off the festive event Oct. 14.

Mountain Division Alliance President Dave Kinsman smiled broadly, as speaker after speaker came to the podium to honor the hard work he and others have put in to their efforts to see the Rail Trail become a reality.

Another section of the trail will be constructed next summer and will continue from Porter Road another two and one-half miles to the Eastern Slope Airport Road near the Brownfield town line. The Town of Brownfield has already submitted an application to fund the construction of the section of the Rail Trail that will connect to Fryeburg, according to Kinsman.

The Fryeburg trail project brings to fruition six years of planning by the Town of Fryeburg, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Mountain Division Alliance.

Six miles of the Mountain Division Trail connect Windham, Gorham and Standish, and engineering for another five-mile section that will connect Windham and Westbrook is being completed this fall.

Funding for the Mountain Division Rail Trail project comes from federal funds dedicated for walking and bicycling projects.

Kinsman said that, in recent years, Fryeburg and the Mount Washington Valley area have become a bicycle tourist destination and the trail will help attract more visitors to town, as well as provide healthy recreation and a safe place to run and walk for local residents.

At its completion, the Mountain Division Trail will connect nine communities between Portland and Fryeburg with a 52-mile recreational trail that will also serve as an alternative transportation corridor and a safe route for school children.

Kinsman pointed out that studies show that when bicycle trails are built, the towns and cities they pass through benefit from bike tourism. The Mountain Division Rail Trail will bring new visitors, business and a new sense of community to each of these nine towns, according to Kinsman.

In recent years, several bicycle events have been held in Fryeburg, including one national event — a real feather in the caps of Kinsman and the others who successfully promoted Fryeburg as a site for the prestigious event.

Kinsman said the Fryeburg section of Mountain Division Rail Trail has been “extremely well received and is well used by families and individuals, visitors and local residents, some of whom use the trail every day.”

John Weston, who emceed the Mountain Division Rail Trail ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday afternoon, called Dave Kinsman “a champion” for the trail and those who want these types of recreational opportunities in their communities.

Speaking at the Oct. 14 dedication ceremony, Kinsman said, “It’s been a long project — it’s been fun — and the Maine Department of Transportation said the support in our community was unprecedented.”

State Representative Helen Rankin addressed those gathered, saying, “I am pleased to recognize all of you who have participated in this labor of love — not only will this project provide pleasure to bicyclists, but it will benefit local people, as well. I want to express a great deal of gratitude for your perseverance, and I assure you I will support your cause in any future endeavors.”

Rep. Rankin concluded her remarks, saying, “This is an exciting day, when your dream has become a reality.”

Fryeburg Town Manager Sharon Jackson, speaking on behalf of the selectmen and herself, said, “This is very exciting for the Town of Fryeburg. We’re very pleased to be a part of this project. It will be a tremendous asset to Fryeburg, and we believe it will bring a lot of people. We want to have a lot of people come to our town. Again, we are very pleased.”

Sen. Hastings was next to address the group, saying, “This is really an exciting day for the Rail Trail partnership. It exemplifies what an asset this trail is to western Maine. The State of Maine had the foresight to acquire this rail corridor. Over my eight years in the state senate, there has been a constant push for the Rail Trail — to bring it back to life. It’s been years, since I’ve heard this is going to happen. The time will come when the trail will take us from here to Portland — maybe to North Conway (N.H.) and beyond…I look forward to the next steps — they may be slow and may be small — but every step is in the right direction. I thank all of you who worked so hard.”

Dan Stewart of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Division, was pleased at the turnout.

“It is awesome to see so many people here on a stormy day,” Stewart said. “We are here to recognize the partnership we’ve all had to bring this to reality.”

It was in 1994 that the rail was abandoned, Stewart said. The Mountain Division Alliance “made it their mission,” Stewart stated, “to get MDOT and the Legislature to preserve this for the future for a rail trail connecting the sea to the mountains.”

“From the Maine Department of Transportation’s standpoint, economic development is a factor — a town like Fryeburg has mountains, the Saco River and good schools — these are huge attractors to bring businesses to town, to bring families to town. The Department of Transportation is definitely a proud partner with Fryeburg, with the Legislature, and with planning organizations and the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission.”

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