Kennebec Rail Trail Offers Retreat in State’s Capital
July 18, 2016 -
Augusta— Alyson Dame of Brooklyn, New York, loves returning to Maine each summer to visit her mother in Manchester. Her trips include daily walks along the Kennebec River on the trail that runs through Augusta, Hallowell, Farmingdale and Gardiner along an old railroad bed.
“I park in Hallowell and go in either direction. I like both sides. Since I’ve been coming here in the summers, I’ve noticed there is more diversity on the trail (among the people in the Augusta area). Of course I like to see that,” Dame said. “It has sort of a Central Park feel. I used to walk my baby (carriage), now I run with it.”
The Kennebec Rail Trail makes locals and visitors stop and notice their surroundings. The trail, which stretches for 61/2 miles, largely runs behind woods within sight of the river. It’s always busy after work, regulars say, and often humming with walkers on the weekends.
Mary Williams, who moved to Maine three years ago from Texas, enjoys the trail throughout the year, even in the winter, when it’s plowed. She has seen groundhogs, white-tailed deer and osprey. And the Kennebec is teeming with bald eagles.
“I saw a baby fox the other day. It was amazing. I tried to get a photo but it ran off as I got closer,” said Williams, of Manchester. “I like the mix of urban and country here.”
According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C., there are nearly 2,000 rail trails across the country, offering either stone dust or paved paths. Maine is home to 30.
The longest rail trails in the country are Washington state’s John Wayne Pioneer Trail at 253 miles, Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park (238 miles) and Nebraska’s Cowboy Trail (198 miles).
Maine’s longest rail trail is the 85-mile Down East Sunrise Trail, which takes in views of Machias Bay.
Some other rail trails in Maine offer water views. The St. John Valley Heritage Trail, for example, starts along the St. John River in Fort Kent. The Androscoggin bike path in Brunswick boasts stunning views of another large river, though only for 2.6 miles.
But no other rail trail in the more developed parts of Maine runs along a river for several miles as the Kennebec Rail Trail does.
From the trailhead in Augusta, the Kennebec Rail Trail offers views of the river for almost all of its two-mile stretch to Hallowell. From there the trail dips down to a riverfront park where a collection of colorful Adirondack chairs welcomes visitors to picnic or rest. Then the trail jumps up on Hallowell’s historic downtown brick sidewalks for a half-mile before rising up away from the road to far-reaching views of the massive river.
From there the trail extends another four miles, mostly along the river. In some places it runs for more than a half-mile virtually next to the Kennebec.
Monica St. Clair, 23, moved to the Augusta area two years ago after growing up in Scarborough, where she used the 21-mile Eastern Trail, one of Maine’s longer rail trails. She’s grateful Augusta has one, too.
“This is similar to the ET as far as how wide it is. I’m glad to see so many people using it. There are definitely more people using it on the weekends,” St. Clair said.
And James Grecenko, 21, of Windsor, trains almost on a daily basis on the trail for the Maine Army National Guard. Grecenko, a mechanic with the National Guard, was biking the trail on his own one day last week. He likes the tranquility as much as the river views. It lets him get away from traffic and relax.
When his National Guard comrades train together on the trail, Grecenko said they all enjoy running along the flat, open space. It’s their go-to place to run.
“I have an older friend who’s hiking the Appalachian Trail. He’s 55. And he trained along the Kennebec trail for that hike,” Grecenko said.
Deirdre Fleming, Maine Outdoors, July 2016
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