Ellsworth is planning to extend a popular walking and biking path that passes in front of the city’s high school and extends to the end of the Down East Sunrise Trail on High Street.
If the path, which runs directly parallel to train tracks that pass through Ellsworth, is lengthened it will result in a path more than 2 miles long between North Street and roughly where L.L. Bean is located on High Street. Unlike the Down East Sunrise Trail, the local path will continue to be reserved for non-motorized uses only.
The City Council voted 7-0 Monday night to accept a $25,000 grant from the Maine Department of Transportation to develop plans to extend the path by approximately a mile from its current southern end at Birch Avenue to Merrill Way, where a traffic signal controls the flow of cars and trucks into the parking lot at Reny’s and Shaw’s Supermarket.
The western end of the Down East Sunrise Trail, a multi-use trail maintained by the state that extends 96 miles from Ellsworth to Perry in Washington County, is located on High Street just north of the Comfort Inn, near the southern end of Beals Avenue.
Janna Richards, the city’s economic development director, said that by extending the trail south to Merrill Way, approximately three-tenths of a mile past the end of the Sunrise Trail, it will enable people who live on the west side of High Street to walk across the street at the Merrill Way traffic signal to get to the trails on the eastern side of the street.
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Richards said the exact route that the extended path will take between Birch Avenue and Merrill Way has not been decided. The city will use the grant funds to hire a consultant who will help identify options and draft ideas for where the path will be located and what it might look like.
The path likely will continue south directly along the existing train tracks as far as Main Street, but whether it might be on the east side or west side of the tracks is still up in the air, she said. South of Main Street, the path could feasibly be routed along Beals Avenue, or it could continue to follow the train tracks, provided the city could get an easement from the Maine Community Foundation, whose offices are located in a former train station off Main Street, she said.
Richards said the city plans to form an advisory committee and to hold public meetings this spring to solicit feedback from city residents about the planned path extension. Once the city settles on a preferred design, it will be up to the Maine Department of Transportation to approve, fund and then build the path extension, a process that could take a few years.
Over the past several years, city officials have sought to increase walking and biking routes in Ellsworth, both to promote healthy lifestyles and to boost the city’s recreational economy.
In 2011, the Department of Transportation completed building the 1.3-mile walking and biking path that currently runs between North Street and Birch Avenue. Five years later, also with the city’s encouragement, the state extended the western end of the Sunrise Trail from Washington Junction in Hancock to High Street, a distance of more than 2 miles. Sidewalks also have been added or improved along High, State and Oak streets.