AUGUSTA — The Kennebec River Rail Trail starts in Augusta under Memorial Bridge, but since its founding 17 years ago, the trail head where the paved path starts has had a mile-marker that reads “.25.”

Now that missing one-quarter of a mile is coming to the capital city’s landmark recreation trail.

That’s because the intent all along was the the picturesque trail would end not under Memorial Bridge at the end of a parking lot where it does now, but instead in the city’s nearby waterfront park, alongside its namesake, the Kennebec River.

Construction of that final quarter-mile of trail to bring it up to its originally intended starting point is underway, with work expected to be completed in about a month.

“The zero mile marker will be in the park, as it was always intended to be,” said Lionel Cayer, city engineer in Augusta and a founding member of the Kennebec River Rail Trail Board of Supervisors. “This completes that trail section down into the park. Even though it is a short segment of the trail, it’s going to really enhance the experience on the Augusta end of the trail.”

The 6.5-mile rail trail opened, along railroad tracks and the Kennebec River, between Augusta and Gardiner in 2001, following several years of construction and planning for the $4.5 million project.

However, the quarter-mile to the planned trail head in Augusta wasn’t built with the rest of trail, primarily because of the cost of bringing the trail down a steep hill between the current trail head at the end of the Maine State Housing Authority parking lot and into the waterfront park.

“The cost of that trail head was always very high, and we were more concerned about completing the trail all the way to Gardiner before we did the trail head here in Augusta,” said Cayer, who is retiring from his city engineer’s post at the end of this month.

However, trail organizers have since secured federal funding to pay for 80 percent of the project, with the city of Augusta picking up the other 20 percent. Cayer said building the trail section is expected to cost about $240,000. Cross Excavation, of Bethel, is doing the work, which started about a week ago.

Trail users said they look forward to the trail being extended down into the landscaped riverfront park, which is next to downtown shops, restaurants and office buildings.

Dick and Sue Ellen Greenan, of Rome, drove to the Augusta trail head Tuesday to ride their bicycles the entire length of the trail, to Gardiner, to have lunch at the Depot before riding back to Augusta. They said the trail has the potential to help revitalize the area in general by attracting people and, more specifically, extending the trail to the park and closer to downtown Augusta should be even more of a boost.

“It’s something to encourage people to come and play and spend time here. They should put some benches and things like that around (the new trail head) so people can gather before and after using the trail,” Sue Ellen Greenan said. “Business will follow the people.”

She’d like to see the trail extended all the way to Portland.

Advocates for extending the trail have proposed to make it much longer, including possibly extending it 25 miles from Gardiner through Richmond to Topsham by creating the Merrymeeting Trail.

Dick Greenan said the new trail head location should be better for downtown restaurants, as trail users will have easier access to the nearby downtown offerings.

Cayer agreed that the new trail starting and ending point will connect the trail more to the downtown and provide trail users with a nicer place to begin and end their walks or bicycle rides. He also joked that the steep hill might prove popular with skateboarders.

The Greenans said they’d seen the 0.25-mile marker at the start of the current trail head and found it a bit odd.

Cayer said that over the years, trail organizers got a lot of questions from users about why the trail appeared to start at the quarter-mile mark.

Makaila McGuire, of Augusta, who pushed a stroller with 18-month-old boy Callum in it on a sunny Tuesday morning, said she uses the trail almost daily. She said the new location should expand the available parking for the trail, and the steep hill up from the riverfront to the rest of the trail will provide people with more exercise, both of which, she said, are good things.

David Braley, who works at the Key Plaza building downtown and walks on the trail three or four times a week, said the new location should be great for him, because he’ll be able to get onto the trail just a few steps from his office building door.

Cayer said the new trail head will be in the northern end of the waterfront park, matching up with an existing sidewalk, which, he said, is right next to the river.

Trail users wishing to extend their time on trails, beyond the rail trail, also may continue to the northern end of Waterfront Park to cross the Calumet Bridge at Old Fort Western, then, on the other side of the river, enter the Augusta Greenway Trail, which follows the east side of the river to just beyond the Kennebec Arsenal property.

The rail trail is also part of the East Coast Greenway, which, following a mix of dedicated trails and sign-marked public roads, can take users all the way to Florida.

On the Gardiner end of the trail, a project meant to extend the Kennebec River Rail Trail to connect to the proposed Cobbossee Trail, which would follow Cobbossee Stream, is underway and includes plans to add a pedestrian bridge across Cobbosseecontee Stream at Maine Avenue.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj