Maine’s scenic Eastern Trail stretches 65 miles from Kittery, on the banks of the Piscataqua River at the state’s southernmost tip, to Casco Bay in South Portland. A favorite segment of many East Coast Greenway visitors, the Eastern Trail could be seen as a microcosm of the bigger route. Both trails have moved a third of their routes onto protected, off-road paths; both also feature scenic on-road stretches.
Much like the East Coast Greenway, “the Eastern Trail is both a trail and a vision,” its website proclaims, with critical gaps in the route. For the Eastern Trail, one critical gap involves two bridges and 16 off-road miles needed to connect South Portland’s beloved Bug Light to downtown Saco. The Alliance is working to raise funds to offset a gap in funding the $3.8 million project. Maine's Department of Transportation committed $1.55 million and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System committed over $1.1 million; to date, the project funding stands at $3.3 million.
Driving the “Close the Gap” campaign is Carole Brush, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance and the Eastern Trail Management District (the fiscal agency, representing each community along the trail) for the last eight years. Brush has been involved in land and energy conservation work the last 20 years while also hiking and cycling, serving as a Maine Guide, practicing yoga and Pilates, and pursuing other wellness interests. Her part-time position with the Eastern Trail involves everything from managing events and trail maintenance to fundraising and outreach with the communities and officials.
On September 9, she’ll oversee the 14th annual Maine Lighthouse Ride, with options from 25 to 100 miles. The ride is capped at 1,200 cyclists and “we’ve sold out the past five years, this year a month earlier than last year.” The sold-out event is just one sign of the public’s growing appetite for safe cycling, Brush says. “There’s a great deal of momentum and interest, much more interest in off-road routes over the past four to five years.”
The Eastern Trail Alliance, East Coast Greenway Alliance, and other partners in Maine continue to advocate for state and federal funding for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure projects. “But on the government side, funding for trails has decreased just as the interest has increased,” Brush notes. “It varies from state to state, but for most of us, funding campaigns of the future will have to be a mix of public-sector funding from federal, state, and local governments along with private-sector funding from individuals, corporations, and grants.”
Holding monthly events and offering the trail to outside organizations — from schools and fellow nonprofits to a recent Ironman competition — helps the Alliance build awareness and support, as does being a segment of the East Coast Greenway. “It helps that we are part of a larger picture, that we can say we are part of a national trail,” Brush says.
Earlier this year, her community mourned the death of John Andrews, the Eastern Trail’s founder and indefatigable champion. The Alliance has dedicated the 25-mile loop in the upcoming Lighthouse Ride to Andrews, and his family will be riding it in his honor.
“We work to continue John Andrews’ vision of creating open space for off-road transportation and recreation for all to enjoy, the opportunity to get out and enjoy nature,” Brush says. “John truly lived his motto of the three Ps: patience, persistence, and politeness. Which is exactly what it takes to build a trail like this.”
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