ELLSWORTH, Maine — If it is possible for an entire region to have one address, the newest entrance to coastal portions of eastern Hancock County and Washington County now can be found next to 150 High St. in the center of Ellsworth’s commercial district.
Technically, that is the address to the local L.L. Bean outlet but right behind the store — and right next to the Comfort Inn — is the new western end of the Down East Sunrise Trail, which was ceremonially opened Friday morning by state and local officials and other supporters who see the 95-mile multiuse trail as a potential economic engine for far eastern coastal Maine.
“We’ve very excited to have this happen,” John Phillips, chairman of Ellsworth’s City Council, told several dozen people who gathered Friday in the Comfort Inn parking lot. As he spoke, a red ribbon for the ceremonial cutting stretched across the trail behind Phillips, tied to a stake on each side.
“We realize the economic and tourism benefit [the city will receive] from the trail,” Phillips said.
The new 2-mile section of trail between Washington Junction in the neighboring town of Hancock and High Street in Ellsworth is the final piece of a trail that has been under construction in sections for the past eight years.
The wide gravel trail follows the old Calais Branch rail corridor, which had fallen into disuse and disrepair before the railbed was rebuilt as an off-road multiuse trail, open to snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle riders as well and hikers and bikers and cross-country skiers.
From September 2010 until Friday, the western end of the trail has been at Washington Junction. By extending the western trailhead to High Street, it connects the trail directly into the busiest commercial hub in Hancock County, through which millions of tourists pass each year en route to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.
David Bernhardt, commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, said the latest extension of the trail will benefit Ellsworth businesses.
“This completed section will encourage trail users to visit Ellsworth — local restaurants, lodging facilities, fuel stations, [boost] merchandise sales,” Bernhardt said. “There’s a hotel right here.”
The Down East Sunrise Trail is the easternmost section of the East Coast Greenway and, according to greenway official Sue Ellen Bordwell, it is the longest continuous off-road section of the greenway between Key West and the Canadian border.
Bordwell, who has biked along the Sunrise Trail, also said it is one of the most friendly sections of the greenway, where different kinds of users help and support each other. In other parts of the country, bicyclists and ATV riders sometimes view each other with suspicion, she said, but on the Sunrise Trail, more than one ATV rider has stopped while she was resting by the side of the trail to make sure she was OK.
“People who don’t live in Maine don’t understand that,” Bordwell said.
Eve Young, co-owner and general manager of the Comfort Inn, said Friday that she is “really excited” the trail has been extended into Ellsworth. She said she has not yet seen an uptick in business at the inn from trail users, but that the inn has received a lot of inquiries about the trail.
“I think it’s an opportunity for growth, for Ellsworth in general,” Young said. “I’ve been looking forward to this day since they started talking about it.”