GARDINER — Waterfront Park here is not connected to the 6.5-mile Kennebec River Rail Trail, though railroad tracks run along one side of the parking lot.

Nonetheless, the Friends of the Kennebec River Rail Trail chose to celebrate the trail’s 10th anniversary at the park, envisioning the role the it will play in the trail’s future.

“We hope that very soon the trail will be extended to this point,” said board member Tom Reeves as he helped to dedicate a bell tower that someday will mark the trail’s southern terminus.

The trail’s supporters, and some of the donors and public officials who helped make it a reality, reflected on its origins and looked forward to its future on Saturday.

“When you think about it, we’ve achieved some incredible things,” Reeves said. “The rail trail that we all enjoy is the first of its kind in Maine.”

Frank O’Hara, the second president of the Friends, saluted the “godmother” of the trail, Beth Nagusky, who came up with the idea while working for the Natural Resources Council and found a grant for it.

But the idea soon became controversial, O’Hara said, with concerns about privacy, crime, property values and possible conflicts if rail traffic were restored.

New regulations made the cost balloon, O’Hara said, but advocates managed to raise the necessary private funding.

“It’s been great to see people who were fighting the trail out there using it and smiling,” O’Hara said. “And local businesses are seeing more business from trail users who stop in.”

But the trail is not complete, said Mike Seitzinger, another board member of the Friends of Kennebec River Rail Trail. The segments at each end of the trail — the other end’s in Augusta — have yet to be built.
Seitzinger issued a challenge to the officials of both cities.

“Those two stretches at the very ends, down to the waterfront parks, have not been completed,” he said “Which city will be the first to complete the trail at its end? We look forward to congratulating the winner.”

He outlined some of the other central Maine trails that could be connected to the Kennebec rail trail, such as the Bond Brook trail in Augusta or the Old Narrow Gauge Rail Trail in Randolph. New trails could link Winthrop, Manchester and Hallowell to the Kennebec River Rail Trail, or Gardiner to Topsham, Seitzinger said.

At the start of the ceremony, the Kennebec rail trail’s supporters wrapped up a project five years in the making with the dedication of “Song of the Kennebec,” a bell tower created by Dick Fisher.

Sen. Roger Katz, a former Augusta mayor, and Gardiner Councilor Ken Holmes cut a ribbon in front of the sculpture, which rang intermittently as gusts of wind blew threw.

Fisher, who owns the U.S. Bells foundry in Prospect Harbor, said he likes wind bells because they connect nature with human creation.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645
[email protected]

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