We are approaching a watershed moment, with respect to opportunities for active outdoor recreation in Royal River watershed communities. We have the opportunity for trails connecting Yarmouth to Bradbury, North Yarmouth to Casco Bay, Portland to Pineland, and Auburn to local farms and farmers’ markets. We have the opportunity to connect scores of neighborhoods to forests and wild lands we have conserved in recent years, inviting folks to visit our treasures by foot and by bike, rather than by car.
One of the most beautiful stretches of the Royal is in Auburn, where small rapids inviting fly rods define the Royal’s descent from Sabbathday Lake. That stretch of river has clean water and lush forested shorelines but no public access — the river’s banks are defined by an entirely un-used rail line owned by the State of Maine. In Yarmouth and North Yarmouth that same un-used rail asset — if converted to a trail — would immediately connect existing trails to each other, doubling or tripling the opportunities for exploration, exercise, or respite in those locations alone.
It’s time to put Maine’s un-used rail assets to work for active outdoor recreation.
This new trail will fundamentally transform access to the outdoors for people in our communities, providing accessible experiences for folks not ready or able for more primitive trails. Folks with training wheels, folks with baby carriages, folks with wheelchairs, and folks exploring Maine’s wilds for the first time will benefit from easy flat access on the edge of the river, on the edge of the woods. Kids will learn to fish off its bridges, and peer into vast conserved marshes from its gravel base or shoulders.
The Board of Directors of the Royal River Conservation Trust urges strong support of “Trail Until Rail” proposals for both the proposed 17-mile Royal River Greenbelt (Yarmouth to Auburn) and the larger Casco Bay Trail (Portland to Yarmouth). The two trails would put to use existing all-but abandoned rail lines owned by the State of Mane Department of Transportation, known as the Berlin Subdivision of the Saint Lawrence & Atlantic rail line (formerly Grand Trunk). We applaud the work of leaders of the Casco Bay Trail Alliance which laid the groundwork for the proposed regional trail network.
For reasons of climate, flood plains, and habitat, we reject minority proposals for “Trail Parallel To Rail.” A trail corridor parallel to the rail line would have unacceptable environmental impacts, especially within the Royal River watershed. Environmental concerns between Yarmouth and Auburn (especially in New Gloucester’s Intervale) include:
- Trail Parallel to Rail would require six major new trail bridges crossing either the Royal or major tributaries: three new bridges crossing the Royal in New Gloucester’s Intervale; one major new bridge crossing the Royal in Yarmouth; one major new trail bridge crossing Meadow Brook (also in the Intervale); and one major new trail bridge crossing Chandler Brook in North Yarmouth. These six new bridges and their approaches would present significant risks to the floodplain and character of the river, creating more constraints and concerns during flooding predicted in a changing climate.
- Absent extraordinary cantilever or bridging for miles, Trail Parallel to Rail would require significant fill for several miles of marsh lands, wetlands, and flood plain. Trail Parallel to Rail requires 20 feet of separation between the trail and the rail line; the existing rail bed (old fill) simply is not wide enough to accommodate a trail in most locations without significant fill, cantilever, or bridging. Most notably, aerial photos such as Google Maps show the extraordinary interface between the rail line and the flood plain today, above and below Cobb’s Bridge Road in New Gloucester.
- Above Cobb’s Bridge Road, new fill or new cantilever would require review of habitat noting the documented presence of wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta), one of the state’s rarest turtles, listed as Special Concern, known to live to at least 58 years of age
- The existing rail berm’s side slopes are extraordinary. As an example, the slopes along the rail line just north of Chandler Brook Preserve are very high elevation above the forest floor, and extraordinarily steep, and would require that a parallel trail be constructed with enormous amounts of fill, filling floodplains or wetlands on either side of the tracks.
- Trail Parallel to Rail would require filling significant vernal pools. Vernal pools are valuable habitat strictly protected by state and federal law. A major documented vernal pool abuts the existing rail line between Yarmouth’s Riverfront Woods Preserve and Yarmouth’s Sweetsir Farm Preserve, with no room for a trail parallel to the rail line without filling the pool.
Interested in more information? The Portland To Auburn Rail Corridor Use Advisory Council was created in 2022 to advise MaineDOT and the Legislature. MaineDOT maintains the Council’s website with background documents, draft reports, and more.
Parks and trails that would be connected to the new Royal River Greenbelt:
- Yarmouth’s West Side Trail
- Yarmouth’s Village Green Park
- Yarmouth’s Royal River Park
- Yarmouth’s East Elm Street Boat Access (Yarmouth History Center)
- Yarmouth’s Riverfront Woods Preserve
- Yarmouth’s Sweetsir Farm Preserve
- North Yarmouth’s Dunn’s Depot Royal River Boat Access (Route 9 linked to Old Town House Park and Route 9 Baston Park)
- North Yarmouth’s Old Town House Park (nearby)
- RRCT’s Dunn’s Depot Trails (nearby)
- North Yarmouth’s Chandler Brook Preserve
- RRCT’s Fern Hollow Preserve (Cluff Road acccess)
- Maine BPL’s Bradbury-Pineland Corridor and Pineland Public Reserved Land
- Pineland Farms
- RRCT’s Pisgah Hill Preserve (one-parcel gap)
- RRCT’s Intervale Preserve and Royal River access (nearby)
- RRCT’s Big Falls Preserve and the planned Talking Brook Public Land (nearby)
- RRCT pdf map illustrating the assets/routes above. This same map is pasted above in jpg format.