Chris Riley scouts out the route for a new bike trail Wednesday near Kerns Hill Road in Manchester. Riley said that by exploring possible routes this time of year it lets them identify areas that will be wet from spring snow melt. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

MANCHESTER — A trail system linking town landmarks is in preliminary stages, which could spark a project that has been billed as potentially “transformative” for the town.

Chris Riley, president of the Central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, said the demand for trails is “through the roof” currently, which would make the Manchester trail system proposal a “viable project.”

“There’s a pretty big push to connect trails to neighborhoods and to create places where people can (travel) … without the need to always get in the car,” he said. “Also, (there’s a push) to create destinations to ride or whatever and go … on more of an adventure.”

Manchester Selectman Doug Ide said the plan is still “very much in the conceptual stage” and public meetings would be held once a design is in place.

“(Buildout) would very likely happen in phases, with linking … neighborhoods being the first phase, since a bit of preliminary work has been done on that front,” Ide said.

The town’s 2004 Long Range Open Space plan identifies creating trails, sidewalks and bike paths as one of its goals. The plan lists “priority pathways” from Granite Hill Road to Kerns Hill Road, from Kerns Hill Road to Acorn Lane, from Pond Road to the Augusta Golf Course, from the residential Woodridge Drive to both Cross Street and Readfield Road in the Ballard Acres neighborhood, and from the Kennison Street neighborhood to Puddledock Road.

According to Ide, there are existing trails at the Allen-Whitney Memorial Forest and the Jamie’s Pond Wildlife Management Area, as well as next to Hutchinson Pond and the snowmobile trail network. All other existing trails are informal, he said.

Ide, who chaired the Long Range Planning Committee, said the basic idea of the trails project is to create links between the town’s neighborhoods with off-road pathways and sidewalks. Another trail would link the Allen-Whitney Memorial Forest Trails to Lakeside Orchards, and then to the Gardencrest neighborhood.

John Daigle, professor of forest recreation management at the University of Maine, said, if planned correctly, benefits of trail systems often outweigh the costs to create them. Those benefits, Daigle said, include increased property values and bringing more visitors to town.

“It just adds to quality of life and things to do,” he said. “Most likely, it turns into an amenity that is attractive.”

Daigle said the biggest thing to keep in mind for trails is keeping them maintained properly after they are built. He said that volunteer groups could be assigned to take care of the trails, or the town could oversee maintenance.

“It’s going to be real important to have maintenance of the trail,” he said. “If it’s on someone’s property you would want to make sure it’s well maintained and not a hazard.”

Daigle said the trails in Manchester could spread the use of trails in the area, reducing strain on other trails like Vaughan Woods in Hallowell and Bond Brook in Augusta.

 Along with benefits to real estate markets and property values, there are “tangible health benefits” that come with increased recreation activities in town, according to Rex Turner, an outdoor recreation planner for the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Parks and Lands.

“That has a real impact on cutting down on cost from trips to the doctor,” Turner said, adding that it could decrease rates of heart disease, obesity and blood pressure. 

Turner said that there is anecdotal evidence of communities in Maine that have used trail systems to shed stereotypes about being old mill towns, as well as towns with ample recreational opportunities using trail systems to diversify offerings.

“Carrabassett Valley, Bethel and (similar) places … are becoming diversified through their trail systems,” Turner said. “I think one common factor is people appreciate having those close to home. As much as people love to go to Katahdin, you also have these really great close-to-home destinations.”

The Allen-Whitney to Lakeside trail would be developed and maintained by the Central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, which maintains 10 miles of mountain bike trails in the Allen-Whitney Memorial Forest, and would be independent of the town.

Lakeside Orchards owner Dennis Wichelns said he has not had any final discussions about the trail’s creation, but was definitely in favor of it.

“I think it’s something good for the community,” Wichelns said.

Riley, the New England Mountain Bike Association chapter president, said the proposed trail between Allen-Whitney and Lakeside Orchard would almost double the size of the existing trail network. The local chapter of the association is breaking ground this spring on a separate project in Manchester that will connect trails on Kerns Hill Road to the Hallowell Reservoir, adding about 2 miles of trails on town-owned property.

For other trails, Ide said the town would have to get the OK from some landowners to kick off the project. If there was an agreement, he said, the town could enter the planning and development phase and then move into soliciting public input.

“We have had informal discussions, and we plan to continue those discussions, but nothing is public yet,” he said.

A sidewalk would also be installed from Kennison Street to the town office as part of the project, but Ide said that portion of the work is “extremely expensive and carries maintenance issues.”

“If there is enthusiastic support for the first phase then maybe the town will consider further infrastructure improvements, including adding a sidewalk,” he said.

Ide suggested that some money for the trails could come from the town’s tax increment financing funds dedicated to economic development. Ide also said a bond could be pursued, if needed, among other funding sources.


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