ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Down East Sunrise Trail soon will be a little bit longer and a whole lot closer to the city’s main commercial strip.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has awarded a contract to Lane Construction to extend the western end of the multiuse trail, which stretches more than 80 miles from Hancock to Pembroke.
The project will lengthen the trail by approximately 2 miles west from Washington Junction in Hancock into Ellsworth, bringing it within a few yards of the central thoroughfare that guides scores of tourist vehicles every summer to and from Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.
According to Scott Ramsey, director of the off-road vehicle office for the department’s Bureau of Parks and Lands, Lane is expected to begin work sometime this spring and to have the project completed sometime in September. The contract for completing the project is approximately $800,000, he said.
The existing full length of the Down East Sunrise Trail, which was built in phases along the former Calais Branch rail corridor, has been open to the public since the fall of 2010. The westward trail extension will be parallel to a section of rehabilitated train tracks, where Downeast Scenic Railroad offers paid excursion rides to the public each summer and fall.
The Maine Department of Transportation, which owns the trail corridor, is funding the project with leftover revenues from the sale of old steel rails that were removed when the former rail bed was rebuilt for use as a trail.
The new trailhead adjacent to High Street will be near the back of the Comfort Inn motel and L.L. Bean properties, though the precise location of where it will end has not yet been determined, according to Ramsey.
He said the state is not planning to create or provide any new parking in the neighborhood, however. Trail users who want to park near the new western end of the trail off High Street will have to rely on private businesses that are willing to let people leave their vehicles in their lots, he said.
Because of space concerns, trail riders with all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles, which usually are hauled around on trailers towed behind pickup trucks, will be encouraged to continue parking at the existing trailhead at Washington Junction, Ramsey said.
Ramsey said the state has no plans to build anything other than the trail extension, but nearby businesses will have the opportunity to help address trail-users’ needs. Along other sections of the trail in Washington County and eastern Hancock County, he said, trailside businesses have been drawing customers off the trail by offering food, lodging and other amenities.
Eve Young, co-owner and general manager of the Comfort Inn, said Friday she is “super excited” about the trail being extended. She acknowledged that parking could turn out to be an issue in the summer, but she thinks the benefits the trail will bring to her business will outweigh any drawbacks.
“I think there’s potential [for the trail] to give us business all year round,” Young said.
She said that in the winter, when tourist traffic along the coast is slow, snowmobilers will be able to stay at the inn during weekend outings. She said she can see the inn offering two-night package deals to wintertime trail users that would include discounts at the inn and a local restaurant.
“I think it will be really good for Ellsworth and Hancock County,” Young said of the trail extension.
For years, Ellsworth city officials have been trying to get the trail extended into the High Street corridor.
David Cole, Ellsworth’s city manager, was commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation when the trail first opened. He said recently that the city is excited the extension is coming to fruition.
“I think it is great for Ellsworth,” he said. “We’re building quite an asset to the community.”
He said the new 2-mile section will go through a scenic area and, with a crushed concrete surface, will be “ideal” for bicyclists.
“A 90-mile trail can accommodate a lot of things,” Cole said. “It truly is a multipurpose trail.”
City officials have said they hope local businesses will benefit from the trail’s extension into Ellsworth, even if they aren’t right next to the trail.
The city plans to erect signage near the new trailhead so trail users will have the opportunity to find their way by bike or on foot to other parts of Ellsworth, such as the downtown area around Main Street or the 1.3-mile paved walking and biking path that parallels the train tracks between Birch Avenue and North Street.