BELFAST, Maine — After years of discussion, the city has started the process of establishing a walkway along the waterfront.
Armed with a $200,000 commitment from the City Council and a $250,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation, the city’s planning department has started laying out the Coastal Walkway from the Veterans Memorial footbridge to the boathouse at Steamboat Landing.
Although most of the walkway will proceed along the right of way of the former Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad tracks from the bridge to Heritage Park, the area from the park to Steamboat Landing likely will run parallel to Front Street. The paved walkway will be 10 to 12 feet wide and have lighting similar to the historic lantern-style fixtures that line Main Street. It will be designed to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. The city owns the B&ML right of way from Thompson Wharf to Heritage Park.
“The intent of the council is to try and have this designed and ready to go to bid this winter for construction this spring,” City Manager Joseph Slocum said Tuesday. “They want it to be a welcoming, continuous, inviting and attractive walkway at or along the Belfast waterfront.”
Slocum said the City Council, Parks and Recreation Commission, Harbor Committee and the Hiking, Bicycle and Pedestrian committees agreed to move ahead with the project after a work session held last week. He said that while some committee members still were undecided about the final layout of the walkway, all agreed it was time to begin the preliminary work.
“There were a lot of different ideas and not everybody agreed to all the nuances, but conceptually, everyone was on board about going ahead,” he said.
Because the city has partnered with the DOT on the walkway, the first thing that needs to be determined is the ownership of the land. The city owns the rail corridor but surveys will need to be conducted to ensure ownership along the entire length of the walkway. The state will not commit money to a project where there are questions about land titles, he said.
Slocum noted that the rail corridor bisects the 5-acre former Stinson Canning sardine factory along its 1,000 feet of waterfront. That parcel is privately owned and the city in the past has offered to consider swapping rights of way in order to make it more attractive for development. The property is on the market and any future use is undetermined, he said.
As a result, Slocum said, the city plans to follow the path of the rail line through the Stinson site, but instead of asphalt, likely will construct the walkway of crushed rock. Some type of temporary lighting also would be installed along that stretch of walkway.
“Until we know how Stinson is going to be developed we can’t really decide on a permanent location for the walkway,” Slocum said.
Another portion of the walkway that likely will shift away from the immediate shore is the frontage along the Consumer’s Fuel Co. and French & Webb properties on Front Street. Slocum said planners were looking at finding a “creative way” to extend the walkway along Front Street before arriving at Steamboat Landing. The walkway would be at a higher elevation than the shore but still would offer a view across the harbor.
“There is so much we can do here, it’s really an unbelievable project,” he said. “The council really wants to move on this. It’s a good thing for the community and it’s a good thing to attract people to the community.”