WATERVILLE — As the founder of Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, Peter Garrett has not only knit together 40 miles of trails in the Waterville area — he has also helped to knit together the community, area leaders told him just before unveiling a monument in his honor at Head of Falls on Saturday.

“This is gonna be here forever,” Matt Skehan, director of Waterville’s parks and recreation department, said as he unveiled the monument, which features an engraved likeness of Garrett and a dedication from the city of Waterville thanking him for his “hard work, passion, patience and kindness.”

The monument unveiling kicked off the National Trails Day celebration, which brought a crowd of about 60 people out to walk across the Two-Cent Bridge to Winslow and then continue on to the Rotary Centennial Trail in Benton.

Officials said the trail system, which has been built over a 12-year period with Garrett at the helm, is an important asset to the region.

Waterville Mayor Karen Heck said the trail system enriches the lives of the city’s residents and makes it a more attractive place to live.

“When people are deciding where to live, walkability is huge,” she said. “The community benefits tremendously and the debt we owe to Peter is great.”

Skehan said Garrett has been modest about his achievement.

“Even though you say it’s fun, it’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears, so thank you,” he said.

“No tears,” Garrett said. “But plenty of blood.”

A few minutes later, when it came time for him to address the crowd of about 60, Garrett did choke up momentarily.

“It’s your kindness,” he said in a voice thick with emotion. “Your kindness, kind of hosting me here, that has allowed me to do it.”

Crafting a strong trails system plays a central role in an emerging understanding of health care in the United States, Inland Hospital President and CEO John Dalton said.

“There is increasing evidence that our sedentary lifestyle is contributing to many chronic illnesses,” Dalton said. “Many people believe that sitting is the new smoking. Well, we have an antidote here in Waterville.”

The hospital, which helped to boost the trail system with the development of the Inland Woods/Pine Woods trails, embraces a philosophy of preventing hospital visits by encouraging members of the public to maintain their health before emergencies happen.

Inland Hospital participates in events centered around healthy activities every month, said Ellen Wells, the hospital’s Community Wellness Coordinator, who was on hand to distribute literature about the program.

Joy Leach, a representative of MaineGeneral Hospital, said that institution, too, is beginning to be more active in promoting community health.

“We see the value of physical activity and good nutrition,” she said. “We’re going to be increasingly involved with maintaining health. This is where health care is going now”

The trail system also attracts people to Waterville from other communities in the region, as was the case with Robert and Jamie Wade, of Vassalboro.

The Wades didn’t know about the event, but they brought their two young children to the spot to walk across the bridge for the first time.

The family learned about the beautiful spot during an Easter egg hunt earlier this year, Jamie Wade said, and the nice weather was reason enough to revisit it for a stroll.

Garrett, who retired as president of the group in April, said the trail will one day be part of a massive 2,900-mile planned trail system that would extend from Key West, Fla. to Calais. The entire trail system is about 30 percent complete, he said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt

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