This spring, the Maine DOT will begin work on Brewer’s waterfront trail, the first piece of an ambitious project that will eventually run nearly the entire length of Brewer’s river frontage, encircle the city, and be part of a Florida-to-Maine system.
Thanks to $1.8 million in federal money, the Maine Department of Transportation is expected to begin work this spring on the first stretch. The six-foot-wide, multi-use trail from the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge down to Hardy Street, featuring benches, lighting, and beautiful landscaping, will open this year.
“It’s not a huge section, but it’s one of the most visible sections,” said Brewer Economic Development Director D’arcy Main-Boyington.
The city has prepared for this for years, beginning with a $4 million shore-stabilization project north of the Veterans Remembrance Bridge. Shore erosion has increased to 7-12 inches per year, probably due to water-flow changes from the bridge’s piers.
This project will begin at the parking lot where the old Archer Block once stood, using HUD funds for extensive landscaping and to erect a curved brick wall to mirror the familiar one on the other side of Wilson Street. The trail will run from the Muddy Rudder, and along the way include a Children’s Garden. At the end, on the former public-safety site, will be a second parking lot, where the city hopes to have a visitors’ center, public bathrooms, and possibly a take-out restaurant.
But this is just the beginning of a citywide system called the Penobscot Landing Multi-Use Trail. It will follow the Felts Brook corridor, which runs from Dirigo Drive to I-395, then circles northwesterly and ends at the river in North Brewer. The system will include on- and off-road components. To build it, the city and the Brewer Land Trust have been acquiring land for several years along Felts Brook. Much of it has come from conservation easements that will be in place forever, thanks to developers.
Here’s how it works. If a developer wants to build on wetlands, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers must approve the project. They will then require the developer to put land into conservation easements, enhance existing wetlands, or create new wetlands. So if a developer wants to build on one wetland acre, the DEP might demand 10 acres of conserved lands elsewhere, which preserves more wetlands than are destroyed.
Easements are generally kept local. In fact, the land where Felts Brook empties into the Penobscot in North Brewer was provided by Lowe’s when it built in Brewer. And when the City of Brewer built Dirigo Drive, it purchased land along Felts Brook for conservation easements.
Main-Boyington stressed that the long-term plan has no set timetable and is dependent on when Brewer secures funding to proceed with the next piece. Although the costliest component, the waterfront piece is the part that can boost Brewer’s economy.
“We’ve tried to focus on improving the public spaces that will then encourage businesses to settle in that area,” she said. “When we have pedestrians getting out of their cars and walking up and down the waterfront, this will become very valuable land for businesses. It would be great if we were going to have the whole thing done this year, but it’s a good start. I think it’s going to be a really big move for the City of Brewer.”
City Planner Linda Johns has several angles into this project: her job, her interests as a licensed forester, and her personal love of hiking. But she’s also a member of the Brewer Land Trust, which is instrumental in conserving land for this project.
“One of the objectives of this trail is to have several different fingers to it, so that it can get people to different things — like the high school, the [Brewer] auditorium, the library — so that people can use it for recreational purposes, but also transportation purposes,” Johns said.
The long-term dream is to join with regional and national bicycle and pedestrian networks, eventually connecting with the Down East Sunrise Trail, which currently runs from Ellsworth to Calais, and the East Coast Greenway, which will run from Key West, Fla. to Calais.
Johns echoed that it won’t happen tomorrow, but with public awareness and ongoing conservation efforts, it’s a matter of time.
“I’m looking forward to having more of this done,” said Johns. “We have a lot of people that are helping us, with mitigation plans and the city and the Land Trust and… someday!”