A portion of the abandoned Maine Central Railroad line is shown Tuesday along Depot Street in Norridgewock. State officials announced that a 32-mile stretch of the line, including the portion through Norridgewock, will be converted into a recreational trail that will appeal to snowmobilers, ATV riders and other outdoor enthusiasts. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

An abandoned railroad line extending through Kennebec and Somerset counties will be converted into a 32-mile trail offering an array of recreational opportunities, particularly for snowmobilers and ATV riders, while serving as an economic catalyst for several towns along the corridor, state and local officials said Tuesday.

The line once used by the Maine Central Railroad Co. will connect thousands of miles of snowmobile and ATV trails and allow riders to travel from Oakland north to Bingham and the broader Moosehead Lake region. The route — known as the Madison Branch and which travels over the Kennebec and Carrabassett rivers — also will appeal to hikers, bicyclists, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts, officials said.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation closed on the purchase of the land last week from Pan Am Railways for just over $1 million, according to an announcement by Gov. Janet Mills’ office.

“Snowmobiles and ATVs are as much a part of the Maine outdoor experience as hiking boots, snowshoes and skis,” Mills said in a news release. “My administration has listened to our off-road recreational vehicle riding community who wants to be able to travel long distances, legally and safely, and have a good time.”

Mills also touted the economic benefits of the corridor.

“The addition of the Madison Branch provides that resource and will support local businesses and strengthen the economy throughout the region,” she said.

The trail will pass through Oakland, Fairfield, Norridgewock, Madison, Anson, North Anson and Embden and will connect snowmobilers to the Maine Interconnected Trail System through a new route. ATV riders, meanwhile, can connect to the Maine ATV Trail System, including one route connecting Oxford and Franklin counties with Somerset, Piscataquis and Penobscot counties.

Converting the rail line into a recreational trail will require additional funding and may take two years, officials said.

Norridgewock town leaders posted news of the land acquisition to Facebook on Monday, with several comments from residents supporting the corridor.

“The acquisition of the Madison Branch rail bed is a major step forward for our region’s economy,” Norridgewock Town Manager Richard LaBelle said in the release issued Tuesday. “The interconnectivity between recreational areas will be a positive impact on generations to come. Norridgewock is fortunate to have such strong partners at the state and in our local sportsmen associations that will continue to see this project through to its final stages of development.”

The state will work with local clubs to implement trail work and coordinate ongoing maintenance.

Acquiring the land from Pan Am was done in part with a $508,000 grant from the Land for Maine’s Future program and a matching amount from the Northern Border Regional Commission.

“After many years of diligent work by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands along with numerous interested parties, I am very pleased to see the acquisition of the Madison Branch rail trail,” said state Sen. Bradlee Farrin, R-Norridgewock. “Trail users, students and educators from Oakland to Jackman will benefit by the increase in miles of trail, and our local economies will be boosted as restaurants, gas stations and stores will see an increase in business.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.