Peter Garrett steps out of his car on Water Street in Waterville and motions to a set of 63 concrete stairs descending to the Kennebec River.

Many years ago, there were houses along this riverbank across Water Street from Carey Lane. Now the riverbank is a mass of tall grass and brush.

“These steps were built in the 1970s and they’re in very, very good shape,” Garrett said. “The sewer authority built them to go to a sewer pumping station at the bottom, and the pumping station served all those houses that are no longer. They don’t need the station anymore because there are no houses, so we are working with them to fill and neaten up the space.”

Garrett sees a gem in those stairs — a venue for hikers to get down to the river where the trails group wants to build a walking bridge to Leeman Island just south of Hathaway Creative Center. The island has a maze of walking trails.

Garrett, who founded Kennebec Messalonskee Trails 17 years ago and still is a member of its board of directors, always is looking for possibilities to improve and expand the 40 miles of trails that already exist in Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Benton and Oakland.

He explains that a nine-member AmeriCorps team was scheduled to come in late August to work on improving the trails and clearing new ones, but Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and AmeriCorps was diverted there instead. The national volunteer organization’s help would have been a boon to the trails effort, though Garrett understands why it can not come.

“We had planned for the AmeriCorps people to clean up these steps,” he said, pointing to litter, mud and leaves on the stairs. “They were going to build a trail from the bottom of the steps to the bridge that isn’t there yet so we have a trail from here to Leeman Island Trail. When it’s done, it’ll be basically the South End Trail — Silver, Summer and Water streets. It goes into the cemetery, and we have been working with contractor Len Poulin and he and his people have been cutting a trail parallel to Water Street through the woods.”

Garrett, an upbeat, cheerful fellow with a British accent, gets back in his car and drives south on Water Street, past the entrance to the public boat landing. He points to the West, where Poulin is clearing a path from Pine Grove Cemetery to Water Street.

“He is cutting a trail — all kinds of brush and a few trees — and it’s going to come out under the Carter Bridge,” he said. “Then you’ll be able to walk along on the mowed part owned by the sewerage district, which is very cooperative. You get the impression from all of this that I and a few other people are looking at land and property ownership and saying, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if that’s possible and how much would it cost? Way too much, so how can we make it happen for less money?'”

We head farther south along Water Street and stop near a place Garrett calls the Confluence Trail north of Thomas College. It’s where Messalonskee Stream meets the Kennebec River, and the area is gorgeous, with thick, lush greenery and a spectacular view of the river from a ridge.

“As you can see, this is not much of a used trail or park — not yet, anyway,” he said, climbing to the ridge and looking out over the Kennebec.

“Those are the rapids Benedict Arnold would have met. This area should be a nice place to walk once we get it fixed up. We were going to have the AmeriCorps people help with that.”

That team of six men and three women were to have stayed first at the conference center on China Lake and later at Camp Tracy on McGrath Pond in Oakland. The trails group applied for the team to come and their bid was accepted, but as Garrett said, you never know when a hurricane will hit.

“We were looking forward to them coming very much,” he said. “They get paid by AmeriCorps. We have to look after accommodations, but they get a stipend from AmeriCorps that they live on. It isn’t much per day, but it’s enough. We give them a bed, shower and kitchen, and they have to buy their own food and cook it.”

As part of their stint here, they would have done some work for the conference center and Camp Tracy as well, according to Garrett.

“We had eight to 12 trail sites they would have worked on for four or five days at a time, and they would move on to another trail.”

Earlier, Garrett had shown me a new walking bridge built last fall by the trails group, Colby College students, South End Neighborhood Association and the city’s parks and recreation department on the Leeman Island Trail, which is accessible from the southeast corner of the Hathaway parking lot.

The area is beautiful, with tall silver maple trees that serve as a canopy over a floodplain thick with ferns and other greenery. It is cool and quiet and old world-looking.

Garrett said the trails group will apply again next year for the AmeriCorps team, but in the meantime, he hopes local people will offer to volunteer to do some of the planned work. Anyone interested may contact trails secretary Jackie Dalton at 873-4444, he said.

“Volunteering is healthy, it’s good community work, and hey, it’s just wonderful to be part of the effort,” he said. “You know, before we opened up our first trail in 2004 — it took four years of planning — we had 4 miles of publicly accessible trails around the Colby College campus and now we have 40. Some people still don’t know that there’s a trail near them. They’re all over the place.”

Walking the trails also is great exercise, Garrett said.

“If you talk to anybody in the mental health business, they will tell you that getting out and about — getting outdoors and walking — is one of the best things you can do for mental health. I remember when our children were young and they would get all fussy. I’d pick them up and take them outside and the mood would instantly change, just to be outdoors. That applies with adults, but it’s more difficult to pick them up,” he said with a chuckle. “But get them out of doors and their mood will change.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.