The anticipation that’s in the air could be more than ATVers can bear.
On Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Maine Department of Conservation will open the Down East Sunrise Trail’s mid-section, the 25 miles be-tween Route 193 in Cherryfield and Route 1A in Whitneyville. Based on their riding experiences along the DEST’s easternmost 32 miles (Whitneyville to Pembroke), ATVers anticipate finding a well-built trail that crosses beautiful Washington County terrain.
They won’t be disappointed, according to Scott Ramsay, who heads the Off Road Vehicle Division at the Bureau of Parks and Lands in Augusta. Part of the MDOC, the bureau oversees state parks and public reserved lands.
From Route 1A in Whitneyville to Centerville Road in Columbia Falls, the DEST rolls approximately 13 miles through inland terrain accessed by only one paved artery, the Station Road in Jonesboro. This uninterrupted scenery means that ATVers and other outdoor recreationists will see “lots of good stuff [while] crossing Indian Stream [in Columbia Falls]” and “Chandler River [in Jonesboro], as well as several feeder streams to those,” Ramsay said.
“As I recall, there is some really high ground, too, by most trail standards not much of a hill, but a long sustained grade” surmounting Staple Ridge in Jonesboro “that was difficult on trains and certainly [will] test bicycle riders’ legs and will power on that section,” he said.
Between Mile Markers 42 in Columbia Falls and 30 in Cherryfield, the DEST crosses the Pleasant River and Epping Road in Columbia Falls, passes a lovely marsh created by Branch Brook, and parallels a Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. transmission line in Columbia. At a well-marked sign post nearer Harrington, the DEST intersects Trail 514W, a major Washington County ATV trail. Signs direct ATVers to the nearby Harrington Irving (now a Circle K) and the Airline Diner, located 30 miles north on Route 9.
The DEST actually nudges “intown” Harrington, passing a cemetery and crossing the scenic Harrington River on a rebuilt bridge. About a quarter mile from the Webb District Road intersection, the trail passes a cat tail-bordered pond and commercial cranberry bogs; the domed gymnasium of Narraguagus High School peeks through the thick foliage separating the trail from Route 1.
Then the DEST abuts Route 1 for almost four miles through Harrington, Milbridge, and Cherryfield. A long straightaway appears be-yond the Willey District Road intersection, and the trail crosses Mill River (another lovely Washington County stream) and its marsh at the Milbridge-Cherryfield town line.
Past Mile Marker 31, the DEST features a gradual decline appreciated by mountain bikers and again intersects Trail 514W. Then the DEST crosses the Willey District Road and Route 193, passes between blueberry processing plants, and spans the fast-flowing Narra-guagus River on a steel trestle. Trail 514E intersects the DEST just before this redecked bridge.
Throughout its 25-mile mid-section, the DEST features a well-built road surface similar to that found east of Whitneyville. Work was proceeding on this section (and farther west) when the project’s general contractor, Bangor-based Vaughn Thibodeau & Sons, closed earlier this year.
Construction activity hardly missed a beat as, according to Ramsay, “the bonding insurance company, the Hanover Insurance Co., took over the contract. One of their agents is administering the project, but most of the work is being done by [the] same people” who had been working on the DEST.
The new construction crew has been “excellent,” and the project “is on [its] planned completion target in spite of the setback,” Ram-say said. Currently, state officials are “trying to pick a date [between] September 20-25th to line up interested parties” to participate in an official opening ceremony, not only for the Cherryfield-to-Whitneyville mid-section, but possibly also the Hancock-to-Cherryfield west-ern section, he indicated.
ATVers are ready to roll. The DEST project has been supported by the Acadia Area ATVers, Ellsworth Snowmobile Club, Frenchman Bay Riders, Narraguagus Snowmobile Club, and Narraguagus ATV Club. According to Ramsay, the project has also received support from Hancock and Washington counties “and the DEST Coalition,” with backers “stepping up to address all needs,” such as “installation [of] education signs, maps, brochures, and general information” and “installation of speed limit signs in urban areas.”
When completed, the Down East Sunrise Trail will run 82 miles from Washington Junction in Hancock to Ayers Junction (Route 214) in Pembroke. The trail follows the Maine Central Railroad corridor acquired by Maine in the mid-1980s.
Backers believe the trail will economically benefit Down East Maine. “Businesses [are] seeing the potential already for new visitors” as “well as opportunities for folks living Down East,” and some “businesses [are] giving discounts on products or services if visitors go there by trail,” Ramsay said.
“I snowmobiled the trail last winter for only the second time in 32 years actually riding Down East,” he recalled. He “stopped and bought a couple bags of shrimp and scallops from a local vendor. I don’t think too many people have ever done that. If not for the trail, I would not have been there.”
With “several trails connecting the DEST to other destinations already,” work has started on lengthening the DEST, Ramsay indicated. “Clubs and [the] trail coalition [are] already working at continuing the trail from Ayers Junction several more miles to Route 1 in Perry,” and there is “talk moving forward about the section of rail with trail to Route 1 in Ellsworth.”