FAIRFIELD — This summer a newly established trail system will be up and running for the public to use.
Garvan Donegan, the senior economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, said the organization was awarded a grant of more than $30,000 from the federal Recreational Trails Program to create a loop trail system near the Police Athletic League sports fields and a bridge over wooded wetland that Donegan said was otherwise unusable. Donegan also said a $5,000 grant from Inland Hospital in Waterville was used to develop the trail system.
The council applied for the federal grant last year, Donegan said, and work on clearing the trail has been done. All told, he said, a mile-long trail loop will break out into “spokes” like the wheel of a bicycle in order to create more connectivity in town. He said the system is near an industrial area and also abuts a residential area and other areas featuring other types of land use, such as athletic fields.
In the past, a person in a neighborhood next to the athletic fields would have had to get into a car and drive. With the benefit of the increased connectivity, he said, that person will able to use a trail system in a neighborhood and walk to the fields. The newly established trail also feeds into existing the Kennebec Messalonskee Trails system, which is much larger. He said the hope is to develop a spoke into the downtown area.
“The trails are in place. They existed to some degree even before this project,” Donegan said.
He said the intent of the loop — connectivity — just made sense.
The footbridge to cross the wetlands, which Donegan said will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, will be built sometime this spring or summer. The bridge will make it possible to go through an “impassable” area, he said, and it is a wooded area where there also will be educational environmental signage.
“The bigger picture as well that we’re keenly aware of is how do these trail systems work together?” Donegan said, meaning how they can connect with systems in neighboring communities such as Winslow and Waterville.
Donegan said the town of Fairfield also is envisioning a future for Mill Island Park in the Kennebec River. The town’s Economic and Community Development Committee has had preliminary discussions on a vision for the park, ranging from improvements to possible grant funding for a new bridge connecting the island to the downtown area. Donegan stressed everything was still in the preliminary discussion stages, with evaluations and assessments still going on. He said future uses the committee has discussed include a venue for a farmers market on the island, a concert venue and improved passive recreational opportunities. The park now has a small trail system with scenic views that are handicapped-accessible, Donegan said.
“Right now it is largely open space,” he said. “It’s being managed by the town. It’s a day-use park. It’s been used for different passive recreational activities.”
More discussions on the improved bridge are needed, Donegan said. If the committee ultimately decides it wants to do something with the bridge, such a proposal would be subject to approval by the Town Council. He said the committee also would need to find funding for the project, probably either federal or state.
“At the end of the day, I think the large goal and intent is connectivity,” he said.
For the time being, the island will remain a passive recreation area. Donegan said there will be continued efforts to clear trails, probably with some kind of event on National Trails Day, which is June 3. He said increased use of the park will come as Fairfield continues to grow and people return to using the river more.
“Regardless of a potential bridge project, (Mill Island Park) is a huge asset and I do see incremental improvements,” he said.
Colin Ellis — 861-9253