BELFAST, Maine — Belfast officials announced at Tuesday night’s regular city council meeting that they have signed an agreement allowing the city to build restrooms and other infrastructure at the terminus of the planned recreational rail trail.
The long dreamed-of trail will extend for about three miles along the Passagassawakeag River from the harbor to City Point, where it will end at the 3-acre property that has long been home to a railroad museum. Owner Mack Page has agreed to sell his City Point Station property to the Brooks Preservation Society, a nonprofit operation that operates the excursion railroad, for $207,000.
The city plans to remove about three miles of tracks from a portion of the former Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad that will become the rail trail. The tracks will remain usable for rail use beyond City Point.
The city of Belfast will pay Brooks Preservation Society $37,400 on the closing date and also $5,000 annually for 15 years, in exchange for which it will receive a perpetual easement for access to the property and the right to construct a parking lot and bathroom facilities there. If the non-profit agency defaults on its mortgage payments, the city has the right to step in and take over, city attorney Bill Kelly said.
“We’re not going to invest in parking and bathrooms and have it go away,” he told councilors and others present at the meeting.
City Manager Joe Slocum said he felt the project is smart for the city, which will begin a massive donor campaign this summer along with the Coastal Mountains Land Trust that will help fund the pedestrian trail. Earlier this winter, officials said that the cost to construct the pathway likely will be between $104,000 and $240,000. Sale of steel from the existing railroad tracks also will be used to pay for the project.
“I think we’re really off to a great start,” Slocum said. “This is really an exciting thing. This thing is moving forward.”
Joe Feero, executive director of Brooks Preservation Society, said after the meeting that he believes it’s the best possible arrangement.
“Obviously, our goal is to preserve the railroad and we’re losing part of it,” he said. “But a 35-year lease with the city gives longevity to the railroad. Now we can begin to expand our operations. We’ll have a formal station where people can board and a place for parking.”
The seasonal excursion railroad has been operating 12-mile round trips from City Point northwest toward Brooks, with special pizza and chocolate-themed trips attracting lots of riders. The first chocolate train carried 80 people, he told councilors.