Abandoned RR way opens up new pathways
Hiking, bird-watching, bicycling, a leisurely horse-back ride or snowmobiling when the season's right, are all available to outdoor fitness and recreational enthusiasts on a new all-season trail recently converted from an abandoned railroad right-of-way.
The multi-use 18.5 mile recreational trail for hikers, bicyclists, ATV enthusiasts, horse-back riders and snowmobilers recently converted from the Aroostook Valley Railroad's abandoned right-of-way covers wooded areas in Caribou, Woodland and New Sweden.
The trail, which opened in July, passes through several towns that experience heavy wintertime recreational use by snowmobilers and other seasonal recreationists. The rail line crosses farmland, Caribou Stream and other smaller streams, as well as a variety of other natural habitats. A considerable portion of the line has been used for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling for several years. The trail's right-of-way also crosses The Nature Conservancy's Woodland Bog Preserve. Many bird species also habitat the wooded areas along the trail that will create an exciting adventure for bird-watchers.
The trail project is the result of two years of work by area volunteers municipal employees, state and local agencies, the St. John Aroostook R C & D and the Aroostook County Action Program.
"The Aroostook Valley Railroad has come a long way; from electric railway, through abandonment, to recreational, multi-use, all-season trail," said Kathy Mazzuchelli, Caribou Parks and Recreation Department director.
Mazzuchelli said the project began in 1988 when Maine voters passed a 35 million dollar bond to protect land for Maine's future. She said in 1992 the board governing this bond purchased an 18.5 mile section of the Aroostook Valley Railroad abandonment for $144,000.
"The National Recreational Trails Act, which funds existing recreational trails, gave $23,877 toward the refurbishment," Mazzuchelli said. The remaining section was funded through a creative finance opportunity of $22,500 from the Land and Water Conservation Program, $6,200 in access improvement fees, from the sale of the parcel and $16,300 over two years from snowmobile and ATV development grant money, she said.
Mazzuchelli said with the advent of the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, two programs were created that directly aided the AVR makeover. Americorps supplied a trail coordinator through the USDA's Maine Soil Conservation Program at a projected cost of $12,000, and the Youth Community Action Project, governed by the Aroostook County Action Program, volunteered $400,000 in labor hours.
Hands-on work began in the fall of 1993, Mazzuchelli said. Volunteers, including local dog sledders, snowmobilers, ATV enthusiasts, Caribou Parks and Recreation staff, and the Northern Maine Development Commission staff worked on this major renovation project. The primary overhaul was done in the summer of 1994. Work included rest stops designed for the convenience of trail enthusiasts and iron gates installed at all major road crossings to protect the old rail bed from deterioration and automobile traffic. Maintenance continued through the winter with snow grooming for snowmobiles and more brush removal. Signs were added at all road crossings and ITS maps were available at signs that marked the trail head.
At the inception of the Aroostook Valley Railroad on July 1,1910, The line ran 10.8 miles from Presque Isle to Washburn. A year later an additional 11.3 miles were laid to reach New Sweden. With the approval of 7.13 miles on June 29,1912, the city of Caribou was joined with the AVR and the line grew to service over 32 miles of the Aroostook County area.
Although its primary purpose was to transport freight and goods, the Aroostook Valley Railway boasted a small passenger service. As roadways improved, however, the needs for these services declined. Passenger service ended in 1946 and little more than a decade later, the freight trains took their last trips to Washburn, Caribou and New Sweden. The AVR lines servicing those areas were closed and abandoned.
"Thanks to some farsighted area residents and outdoor enthusiasts, the AVR has undergone a transformation," said Mazzuchelli. "This 'Rails to Trails' conversion has saved a little local history, and opened up northern Maine to many outdoor enthusiasts," she added.
"Hiking, biking, horse-back riding and ATV use are all permitted, as well as seasonal snowmobiling," Mazzuchelli said. "With the access to the downtown areas of Caribou, Washburn and New Sweden, the AVR offers tourists and area residents the experience of roughing it with the convenience of home."