WILTON — The Wilton Select Board Tuesday, Jan. 18, unanimously moved to send a letter of support for a grant to rebuild the Rail Trail Bridge.

Brent West, executive director of High Peaks Alliance, approached the board with an update on the rebuilding progress and a request for the letter.

The railroad bridge would allow snowmobile and pedestrian travel across the Sandy River on the Whistle Stop Trail which runs from Farmington, through Wilton to Livermore Falls. The bridge was removed several years ago, according to a Livermore Falls Advertiser report.

“Since the Whistle Stop Trail connects to Wilton, I thought it’d be good to show broader community support and other towns supporting the project” on the grant application, West told the board.

West said the University of Southern Maine did an estimate of the regional economic benefits based on the state’s trail-counts data and visitor-spending data from the Maine Office of Tourism. They found the bridge would bring $861,000 in “increased visitor spending,” which would account for 13 new jobs. It would also bring $1.5 million to the regional economy in the creation of new jobs, including 25 construction positions.

Overall, it would increase access along the Whistle Stop Rail Trail and bring in more pedestrians, skiing, snowshoeing, biking on top of snowmobiles.


West reported that the bridge would be 356 feet long from tower to tower. This would surpass the longest pedestrian bridge in Maine, the 332-foot long Androscoggin Swinging Bridge. It would also be “the longest single-span snowmobile bridge in the state,” according to West.

Though the bridge is located in Farmington, West said that it would be a “really good draw” for people to “travel down in Wilton” along the rail trail and make connections to other trails accessible near downtown.

High Peaks Alliance, which is overseeing the reconstruction of the Rail Trail Bridge, is planning to apply for “a competitive grant program which considers tourism and recreational projects” through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The $2 million grant requires High Peaks match 20% of the funds.  High Peaks has met that figure and then some with $600,000 in contributions. Of that figure, the town of Farmington contributed $200,000 and the rest were philanthropic contributions, West said.

Selectperson Tom Saviello asked West to clarify that High Peaks was only asking for a letter of support, not a contribution. Yes, West said.

Saviello shared that when he served as the District 17 senator in the Maine State Legislature, he “explored this” but was not successful. At the time, it wasn’t possible because owners of an easement that the bridge would run through had prohibited snowmobile and ATV usage in their deed.


West said that they were able to compromise with the land owners to allow snowmobiles, but still no ATVs.

He hopes that someday — especially with a transition to quieter electric engines — the owners might allow ATV access.

“Maybe that [ATV access] could potentially come down the road,” West said. “Right now that’s not an option.”

Select Board Chair David Leavitt emphasized that desire to provide ATV access.

“Down the road if you can get ATV access that can help because this board has moved two different ATV access trails forward to open up for more recreational activity in the area,” he said

“I don’t think many people know that ATVs have a larger impact on Maine’s economy than snowmobiling,” West added.

West asked that the board individualize the letter with “how it would really benefit Wilton [because] I know [grant administrators] want to see the real deal.”

The board moved to approve a collaboration between West and Town Manager Rhonda Irish to write the letter.

West said High Peaks Alliance hopes that if they get this federal grant, construction on the bridge can start as early as 2023. But without the federal grant, High Peaks will have to look for other sources of funding, he added.

Comments are not available on this story.