Urban trail connects key points in South Portland

Outdoor recreationists enjoy the fresh air at Bug Light Park in South Portland. Known as the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway, a paved trail connects the park to the Wainwright Recreation Complex 5.7 miles away.
Outdoor recreationists enjoy the fresh air at Bug Light Park in South Portland. Known as the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway, a paved trail connects the park to the Wainwright Recreation Complex 5.7 miles away. Buy Photo
A bicyclist crosses an intersection along the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway.
A bicyclist crosses an intersection along the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway.
Posted June 20, 2012, at 11:35 a.m.

While visiting the Portland area this summer, enjoy the great outdoors with an invigorating bike ride, run, or walk along the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway.

While other Maine municipalities discussed recreational trails in the last 30 years, South Portland started developing its trail system in 1979; today, a 5.7-mile paved trail extends from Bug Light Park southwest to the Wainwright Recreational Complex. From Bug Light Park, the 1.6-mile Spring Point Shoreway extends east to Fisherman’s Point.

Although it lies within Maine’s fourth largest city, the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway shifts its route from urban to suburban, sometimes within several blocks, and always varies its scenery. From harbor’s edge to heavy traffic to woods to quiet streets and busy Broadway, the walkway provides a nice place to enjoy the great outdoors.

I recommend that out-of-town visitors park at Bug Light Park, well-marked on local maps. The park overlooks Portland Harbor and its assorted boat traffic, the Casco Bay islands, and the oil terminal near Spring Point. Check out Portland Breakwater Light (a.k.a., Bug Light) and its Grecian columns and learn about World War II-era shipbuilding at the Liberty Ship Memorial. Then head out on the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway.

The trail initially passes a once heavily industrialized area and for some distance utilizes an abandoned railroad corridor through Ferry Village. After crossing a mixed-use neighborhood, the trail briefly borders a Fore River cove before crossing Cottage Road (be careful at this intersection) and a lovely park and skirting the busy Mill Creek commercial district.

The Greenbelt Walkway’s greatest challenge lies at the Broadway-Waterman Drive intersection, where recreationists must carefully cross with the signals to continue south along Broadway. A side trip would involve crossing the Casco Bay Bridge — designed with bicyclists in mind — and connecting with Portland’s outstanding trail system.

Stay with the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway, which skirts another Fore River cove while turning away from Broadway. Be alert while crossing Pleasantdale, a South Portland village; watch for directional signs around Chestnut Street and Elm Street, because the trail soon turns left and follows a straight line behind several dead-end streets, including Minott and Burnham.

The South Portland Greenbelt Walkway crosses Broadway at its extremely busy intersection with Evans Street. Cross with the traffic signals, then head south through a wooded region that represents just about as “wild” as nature can get in South Portland.

Then the trail winds through the capped municipal landfill and woods and fields before reaching the Wainwright Recreation Complex, located on Gary L Maietta Way. Relax briefly here before heading northeast to Bug Light Park.

Because many people use the South Portland Greenbelt Walkway, bicyclists must pay attention to pedestrians and runners. Always verbally — and loudly — warn people when approaching from behind them; I usually announce, “Passing on your left.” Some people instinctively shift to the left upon hearing this warning, so I may repeat it.

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