MACHIAS, Maine — There were state and local officials, cyclists, runners, ATV operators and dozens of others, but no one had the same sense of joy Wednesday afternoon as Sally Jacobs, who was the first to ride through the Down East Sunrise Trail after an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“WAHOO!” she shouted as she rolled down the trail.
“Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too,” Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Cole told those gathered to mark the opening of the 32 miles of the trail that stretch from Machias to Pembroke.
Cole said the recreational trail was created from a wasteland of broken rails, washouts, and overgrown trees. “This will be one of the stories I’ll tell my grandchildren,” Cole said.
He said that for 12 years, the rail advocates and trail proponents were at loggerheads.
“People just couldn’t come together,” he said. “The reality was that if we were to have a modern rail system, it wasn’t going to be on those rails. They were too damaged and we had no resources to deal with it.”
But, Cole said, the state had an “incredible corridor from east to west that was providing no economic benefit whatsoever.”
Creating the recreational trail, which eventually will extend 87 miles from Ellsworth to Calais, is a win-win project, Cole said.
“The plan is to preserve the corridor and DOT retained ownership,” he said. “If tomorrow, the money was there to build a new track, we could do it.”
He said the money taken from the salvaged rails was put back into the corridor creation to repair washouts, install culverts and build bridges.
State Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Eastport, said the trail will provide tremendous access for many people and bring commerce to the towns that it passes through.
“We have upgraded and preserved a valuable rail corridor that could, if the economy changes, come back some day,” he said.
“This trail links people, communities and the economy,” Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan said. He said the trail has some of the best views in the state.”
Bill Ceckler, president of the Sunrise Trail Coalition, said that “some of us have waited 20 years for this great day.”
Ceckler said the mixed uses of the trail are blending well. “I happen to be a cyclist, but there are also ATVers, walkers — everyone seems to be getting along fine.”
He said local businesses are pleased with the increase in customers, brought to their doors by the trail.
DEST manager Charlie Corliss said construction continues on the Washington Junction to Machias corridor.
Bridges and culverts are still being installed at the Narraguagus River, in Cherryfield and Harrington.
Corliss said five beaver dams were removed in the last two weeks and all were rebuilt by the animals. “Beavers are going to be one of our biggest problems going forward,” Corliss said.
After the speeches and ribbon cutting, DEST hosted a potluck luncheon at the Lee-Pellon Center in Machias for the volunteers and state workers who assisted in the trail construction and planning.
Information about the Down East Sunrise Trail is available at: www.hcpcme.org/transportation/sunrise.