GARDINER — The Cobbossee Trail Committee has some ideas for the next phase of extending a recreational trail along Cobbosseecontee Stream, the driver of Gardiner’s economy for decades.

The committee also has some hurdles to cross before it can offer a recommendation to city officials, including money, time and scope.

Highlighting its challenges in a presentation last week to the Gardiner City Council, the committee outlined two options for developing Cobbossee Trail west from the city’s downtown area, along the stream and looping back to Water Street.

The abandoned railroad bed that crosses Cobbossee Stream in Gardiner, photographed last Thursday. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“Our plan is to get some feedback and review it,” Gay Grant, chairwoman of the Cobbossee Trail Committee, said. “We’ll make a recommendation and develop a budget. We will have a funding plan, as promised, with some ideas for grant writing and fundraising. And we will have a case for support, so that helps you decide whether this is an important enough project to go forward.”

For many years, plans to develop that stretch of trail hinged on using the railroad trestle that crosses the stream and in 2016, city officials were awarded a $50,000 grant from the Elmina B. Sewell Foundation to help fund the cost of trail design.

“It’s a marvelous piece of architecture there,” Grant said. “We’re sorry to say it has deteriorated to the point where using it as we had hoped — for crossing the stream as a pedestrian and bike trail — won’t be feasible.”

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The two options are outlined in the feasibility study on extending the trail that city officials contracted Stantec, an engineering services firm, to complete. Because the trestle had been a cornerstone of the project, Grant said, the engineering study assessed other stream-crossing alternatives.

The first option would use the existing right of way and space occupied by a disused railroad trestle that crosses the stream. That project is estimated to cost between $2.3 million and $2.7 million.

The second option follows a shorter path with a shorter span required to cross the stream, which would avoid working in the stream bed. It is estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $1.8 million.

Neither set of estimates includes the costs associated with acquiring right of way, landscaping, lighting or other improvements.

Cost estimates developed in 2018 for rehabilitating the trestle were about $1 million. Grant said based on that, some committee members thought even with today’s inflation-heightened prices, the cost of crossing the stream would be about that amount. That is not the case.

Grant said the committee feels most comfortable recommending the second option, but it is still seeking information, including whether the trail could end for now at a park area at the end of Summer Street, which offers dramatic views of the stream and its wildlife.

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Given the cost estimates that have been developed, that could be the finish point for the trail, she said, but it is up to the Maine Department of Transportation to determine whether that will be sufficient, given the plan has always been to cross the stream.

“We’re waiting for word to come back, and we’ll keep you advised,” Grant said, noting she had asked transportation officials only the day before Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Acting City Manager Anne Davis said the area where Summer Street ends at Harden Street is beautiful.

“This could be terminus for now, and it would be a nice place for our citizens to go and have a picnic and enjoy,” Davis said. “The views are really quite amazing.”

The Cobbossee Trail project dates back almost two decades, to 2005, when city officials developed the Cobbossee Corridor Master Plan. The plan called for commercial, resident and mixed-use development along Cobbosseecontee Stream, from the New Mills Dam to the Kennebec River.

For centuries, the stream has powered industrial operations and mills that were integral to Gardiner’s growth. As mills closed and industrial operations left the city, however, they left behind blight and opportunity for other kinds of economic development, including recreational options, such as the Cobbossee Trail.

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The abandoned railroad trestle that spans Cobbossee Stream in Gardiner, photographed last Thursday. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The idea for redeveloping the area around Summer Street and developing a trail near the stream date back even earlier, to a list of long-range goals identified in a 1999 downtown revitalization plan.

In 2009, the city secured a grant from the Maine Department of Transportation to develop a trail that would branch off from the Kennebec River Rail Trail and follow the stream across the Arcade parking lot behind Water Street in downtown Gardiner, crossing Winter Street and entering the wooded area beyond Summer Street.

But the project was delayed to the point that in 2020, state DOT officials wanted to know whether the project would be completed or if the city would be returning the funds.

The first phase of the trail begins in downtown Gardiner, at the Kennebec River Rail Trail on Maine Avenue. It crosses the new pedestrian bridge installed as part of the state DOT’s project to replace the Bridge Street and Maine Avenue bridges. From there, it travels along the stream in the Arcade parking lot, under the Bridge Street bridge.

The next section that is scheduled to be completed this year goes from that point up to the northwest corner of the intersection at Water Street, where Brunswick Avenue turns into Bridge Street and where the  Chapman Fuel building stood for decades before being demolished as part of the bridge project.

As planning for bridge replacement project was being completed, city officials opted to turn over that portion of the trail development to  the state DOT.

Grant said the committee expects to forward its report to the City Council by June.

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