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  • Writer's pictureJohn Martin


Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Maine’s 87-mile, natural-surface Down East Sunrise Trail is the longest continuous off-road segment of the entire 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway. It’s also one of the most unique sections of the Maine-to-Florida route, as cyclists, runners and hikers use the trail alongside motorized ATVs and snowmobiles.

However, less-than-optimal surface conditions currently make enjoying the iconic trail a challenge for many. Cyclists on narrow tires struggle due to the trail surface (loose material, ruts, rocks) and deteriorating road crossings. Runners report the need to be very careful to avoid injury from uneven, rocky surfaces. ATV riders also comment on the need for surface improvements.

In its current state, the trail is difficult for many people to utilize, especially younger children, touring cyclists with extra weight or trailers and those with mobility challenges. And all trail-goers, whether using motorized or non-motorized methods of transportation, speak to the need to be aware of and respectful of other users to safely and comfortably share the trail.

Developing and maintaining a trail that is welcoming to such a wide range of trail-users is a tremendous opportunity - and also a challenge. With this in mind, careful consideration must be given to the complex design and engineering improvements needed on the Down East Sunrise Trail.

Working alongside the Down East Sunrise Trail Coalition and other local partners, the East Coast Greenway Alliance strives to improve the trail-going experience for local residents and tourists of all ages and abilities by advocating for federal, state and local investment in the trail.

The Down East Sunrise Trail Coalition works closely with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and MaineDOT to improve the trail conditions The Coalition also is forming bicycle/pedestrian/trail committees in "trail towns" along the Down East Sunrise Trail, while working with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine's Community Spokes program, to increase funding to properly maintain the trail.

An investment in upgrading the trail surface - and extending it 12-plus miles to the northern terminus of the East Coast Greenway in Calais, Maine - would provide Washington and Hancock counties and the entire Down East region with numerous benefits, including an expected boost in active tourism and subsequent economic growth.

“Trails like the Down East Sunrise Trail can unlock tremendous untapped potential for rural areas,” said East Coast Greenway Alliance Executive Director Dennis Markatos-Soriano. “Improving and extending the trail will bring an influx of visitors and tourism dollars that will benefit local hotels, shops and restaurants like never before.” When extended, the nearly 100-mile trail will be the ideal length for a self-propelled weekend adventure exploring the “natural landscape of green forests and vast marshes” and “habitat for iconic moose, beavers, eagles, wild turkeys and white tail deer.” These upgrades also would entice visitors to explore other parts of the state rather than the most popular destinations.

“This step forward can serve as a complementary relief valve for the booming summer tourism in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, connecting people to more of Maine’s beauty a little further Down East,” Markatos-Soriano added.

Having the distinction of being the northern terminus of the East Coast Greenway, Calais has a unique opportunity to create an iconic starting or finishing point for long-distance travelers of the Greenway route. More than 100 individuals have completed the entire East Coast Greenway, and an uptick in media coverage of these incredible journeys has led to unprecedented interest in active travel to Calais. To welcome these visitors, the City of Calais is working with the Alliance team on developing and applying for funding to create a park and gateway to the trail in the heart of town.

Adding 12-plus miles to the trail also will cover the entire length of the former rail corridor from Ellsworth to Calais and complete the vision of the Down East Sunrise Trail that was outlined in the trail’s original trail management plan in 2006.

The East Coast Greenway is bringing active travelers to the Down East region, and continued investment in the Down East Sunrise Trail will enhance their experience and inspire others to visit.

Sustained growth of the East Coast Greenway in Maine is made possible thanks to the support of state and local elected officials, highly engaged municipalities and by our philanthropic partners, including the Quimby Family Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Onion Foundation, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation and the Maine Community Foundation.

Together, we can make greenways and trails accessible to all Americans, no matter their income level, race, ethnicity or ability. Everyone deserves the physical fitness, peace of mind and community connection that trail time provides.

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