ELLSWORTH, Maine — A neglected downtown community trail along the Union River will get a major facelift this summer when it is rebuilt and made wheelchair accessible.
The existing trail is a rough footpath that extends north from Ellsworth Public Library and, though it has been around for as long as anyone can remember, has never been formally sanctioned by the entities that own the properties it crosses. The rutted footpath runs roughly 1,000 feet over rocks and roots along the eastern shore of the river behind the Hancock County courthouse and jail but stops short of the base of a dam that is owned by Brookfield Renewable Partners.
A couple of years ago Frenchman Bay Conservancy approached the city, the county and the dam company about formalizing the trail. Now that an easement is in place to do that across the three adjoining properties, the conservation group plans to rehabilitate the trail to make it more accessible. Work is expected to begin this month.
As it does now, the trail will start at the lower library parking lot and follow the river north along a tree-lined path to where a wheelchair-accessible overlook will be built. The project is expected to take several years to complete, conservancy officials said.
For years, the section of river that flows through downtown Ellsworth “was all but a forgotten cultural resource,” conservancy officials said, but in recent years interest has grown in protecting and improving access to the river, which serves as a major fishing site for baby eels each spring.
Use of the city’s marina about a half mile farther downstream has increased in recent years. In 2012 the city moved its wastewater treatment operations from downtown Ellsworth to a new plant on Bayside Road and converted the old plant into a waterfront park.
The rehabbed trail behind the library will help add to the appeal of the city’s downtown and, by helping to draw public attention to the river, will help protect and preserve it for fishermen and for recreational use.
“When we talk with our members in Ellsworth, the message is clear,” said Aaron Dority, the conservancy’s executive director. “People want more trails connecting green spaces within the city because access to protected land improves quality of life, and it’s good for business.”
The group already has raised more than $40,000 of its $60,000 goal for the materials and labor to build the trail, and is launching a fundraising campaign for the remaining money to complete the project. Other groups that are helping to raise money for the new trail include Heart of Ellsworth, Ellsworth Garden Club and Brookfield Renewable Partners.
More information about the planned river walk and the river’s history can be found online at the conservancy’s website.