BELFAST, Maine — City officials this week gave the go-ahead for City Manager Joe Slocum to negotiate the purchase of an easement that would connect the new Rail Trail with the Harbor Walk and downtown Belfast.
Since 2010, Belfast has actively been developing the 2.2 mile trail that follows a portion of the old Belfast & Moosehead Lake railroad line that travels alongside the Passagassawakeag River. The trail, which remains a work in progress, stretches from the edge of the Penobscot McCrum potato processing company on the Belfast waterfront to the current railroad terminus at City Point.
The city pulled up the railroad tracks and rails from the new trail in the fall of 2014. Even though the chunky stone rubble left behind is not a perfect surface for running, walking or bike riding, it has proved more popular with residents and visitors than anyone expected, according to Slocum.
“The Rail Trail is an unbelievable asset,” he told the Belfast City Council at Tuesday night’s regular meeting. “It’s going to draw people like we can’t imagine.”
By this summer, he said, the trail should be paved with crushed stone dust, similar to the surface of the carriage roads at Acadia National Park, and fenced where it is steepest. Those moves will mean that many people will use it — and more users make it critical that the trail be connected to the Harbor Walk and the rest of downtown Belfast, Slocum said. Currently, the Rail Trail hits a dead end at the Penobscot McCrum manufacturing plant, although that hasn’t stopped users from trespassing over the property.
“We’re going to need to connect them,” Slocum told councilors. “It’s time for us to have the conversations we need to have with Penobscot McCrum. I don’t want to do this in secret.”
Jay McCrum, owner of the potato processing plant, previously has told the BDN that he needs to protect his business from liability and must take federal food safety laws into consideration. Lawyers have advised Penobscot McCrum to be very careful regarding the idea of opening up the Rail Trail across the property.
Slocum said that Belfast would seek a 14-foot-wide easement over the Penobscot McCrum property for a distance of about 700 feet. The easement would connect the city-owned rail corridor with city-owned property at the foot of Bridge Street.
Councilors agreed this week to have the city secure an independent appraisal of the value of the easement and then extend a formal offer to Penobscot McCrum.
It’s time to do so, they agreed.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on that trail lately and met many law-abiding, nice people who are gleefully jumping the fence into the industrial zone,” Councilor Mike Hurley said, adding that the Rail Trail seems to be irresistible. “You have this completely wild environment right next to an urban environment. It’s amazing already. It’s going to be beyond amazing, once that thing is done.”