Exiting the train in Portland, Philip McGranahan and his wife Marjorie Foote donned helmets, righted their bicycles and headed south on the East Coast Greenway, a route that would lead them along off-road paths and low-traffic roads all the way to Saco.
The Kittery couple pedaled the bike-friendly path several years ago — they couldn’t agree on exactly how many — but as they followed the ECG signs, they noticed that much of the route has changed. In Scarborough Marsh, where a pedestrian bridge opened to the ECG in 2004, they paused and noted that the marsh hadn’t been a part of their previous trip.
Though they ended their day in Saco, the ECG extends much farther. Through Maine, the route currently extends about 380 miles from the Canadian border in Calais to the southern tip of the state. From there, the route continues to the tip of Florida, threading together 16 states.
“The trail is actually intended to connect the communities of Maine so a traveler can see everything from historic mills in Calais, to dam sites in Lewiston, down to the largest chair down in Eliot, Maine,” said Tony Barrett, member of the Maine East Coast Greenway committee. “And the route goes right by the Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor.”
Much of the off-road sections use existing multiuse trails or have been constructed along old railroad beds.
Sections of the ECG in Maine:
• Eastern Trail: Kittery to South Portland, 68 miles.
• Casco Bay Section: South Portland to Brunswick, 35 miles.
• Coastal Route: Brunswick to Belfast to Bucksport, 125 miles.
• River Route: Brunswick to Bangor to Bucksport, 160 miles.
• Down East Route and Down East Sunrise Trail: Bucksport to Calais, 140 miles.
The East Coast Greenway Alliance, founded by 10 trail advocates in 1991, now has partnerships at the local, state and national levels.
In its short lifetime, the route has seen a wide variety of users — horseback riders, runners, walkers, bicyclists and skaters. Many segments are suitable for wheelchairs, strollers and walkers, and in Maine, the large section that spans the Down East Sunrise Trail is open to ATVs.
But the most popular user in Maine is the walker, Barrett said.
Susan Pennell of Topsham walks the same section of the ECG every morning, a paved, 1-mile stretch of The Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path, a 2.63-mile paved path that connects the communities of Brunswick and Topsham. Most days, she sees and greets the same elderly couple — an 89-year-old woman, who walks with a cane, and her 88-year-old husband, who uses a walker — as well as many other local residents.
Currently, 26 percent of the ECG is on firm-surface, traffic-free trails; and Maine is ahead of the game at 34 percent.
“Even the Appalachian Trail started out 50 percent off-road, and it’s still not 100 percent,” Barrett pointed out. “So the East Coast Greenway — we’d love to get it off the road as much as possible … We feel just getting it to the 30 percent off-road in the state of Maine has been good progress in the last 12 years. Before then, it was just under a couple percent. We have local groups that are working to extend the trail as the funding becomes available.”
The majority of the ECG is funded through federal highway programs, administered by the Maine Department of Transportation.
“They’re like these little mini highways,” Barrett said. “[The MDOT] is just as involved because you have to build bridges and have engineering and crews out there to build them.”
Last year, two new pedestrian bridges extended the off-road portion of the ECG in Maine — a bridge over Maine Turnpike in Kennebunk and the John R. Andrews Bridge over Route 1 in Saco.
For information and to download maps and cue sheets of the East Coast Greenway in Maine, visit www.greenway.org/me.aspx.
Popular off-road sections of the ECG in Maine:
• Calais Waterfront Walkway, from Salem Street to South Street in Calais, 0.67 mile.
• Down East Sunrise Trail, from Washington Junction Road in Ellsworth to Ayer’s Junction Road in Charlotte, 85 miles.
• Lisbon Trail System, from Webster Road to Route 196 (near Frost Hill Road) in Lisbon, 1.8 miles.
• Kennebec River Rail Trail, from Water Street in Augusta to 100 Maine Ave. in Gardiner, 6.5 miles.
• The Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path, from Water Street in Brunswick to Main Street in Topsham, 2.63 miles.
• Beth Condon Memorial Pathway, from Hannaford in Yarmouth to William D. Rowe School, 0.45 miles.
• Back Cove Trail, Portland, 3.5 miles. Parking is available in the lot off Preble Street Extension and on the north side of Baxter Boulevard at Payson Park.
• Eastern Promenade Trail, Portland, 2.1 miles. Parking is available at the East End Beach parking area. The trail can be accessed at the corner of Commercial and India Streets.
• Greenbelt Walkway, from Portland Breakwater Light in South Portland to Wainright Recreation Complex, nearly 6 miles.
• Eastern Trail, from Clark Street in Saco (on the edge of the Thornton Academy campus) to Black Point Road in Scarborough, 8.4 miles.
• Eastern Trail, from Alewive Road in Kennebunk to W. Cole Road in Biddeford, 6 miles.