BELFAST, Maine — While the Belfast Rail Trail is still a work in progress, this week the Belfast City Council purchased an abutting 2-acre riverfront parcel of land as a rest stop and picnic area for hikers and walkers.
The parcel of land, complete with a falling-down house, recently was put on the market for a little less than $45,000. Councilors discussing the matter at the regular Belfast City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 2, said if someone else bought it and built a home on the same footprint, it would become by far the closest house to the 2-mile-long recreational trail that follows the bends of the Passagassawakeag River.
Instead of having to contend with close neighbors, city officials thought it would be better to buy the riverfront parcel so that all trail users could benefit from it. They said it might be a spot for picnicking or for boaters to access the river with their kayaks or canoes, although the slope down to the water is quite steep, they said.
“It would give you some open space off the trail, so you could sit down and rest your legs. It’s pretty wild and natural, and very beautiful,” City Manager Joe Slocum said. “We really don’t have a piece of land where people can get off the trail, and we need to respect the rights of private property owners along the rail trail.”
Before voting in favor of purchasing the property, councilors said they would pay for it out of private fundraising for the trail, which follows a portion of the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake line. In 2013, Belfast entered into a partnership with the Brooks Preservation Society, which owns the railroad terminus at City Point, and purchased the rights to develop a parking lot and build bathrooms there.
Last fall, the city pulled two miles’ worth of railroad tracks and rails from the trail, and though the stone rubble left behind leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to biking, running or walking, folks have been gravitating to it anyway, according to Kristen Lindquist of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust. That nonprofit group is working with the city to raise $400,000 to build the rail trail, money that will pay for the final surface of fine stone dust, bathrooms and more.
Lindquist said Friday that they have raised about two-thirds of the money during what she called the “quiet phase” of fundraising. Soon they will launch a public phase to try and raise the remainder by the end of next summer.
“We’re feeling excited about going all out with the community,” she said, adding that the fundraising is going very well. “The community has embraced it. We’re happy to be a part of it. It’s been one of the coolest things I’ve worked on in my term with the land trust, I think because it’s a really tangible thing. It’s such an obviously positive part of the city, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”