Riverfront Park expansion moving forward thanks to grants

2 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The proposed expansion of a scenic walking trail along the Meduxnekeag River has taken another step toward reality, thanks to yet another donation from a local charitable trust.

The Aaron and Maria Putnam Charitable Trust recently donated $15,000 to the town for the purpose of a 1.7-mile extension to the Riverfront Park trail. The trust has been one of the primary financial backers of the trail, which included the initial donation of land so the trail could be built.

“We certainly appreciate the trust and appreciate Gary Hagan for moving this project forward,” Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson said.

Hagan has been one of the driving forces for the trail’s creation and expansion. He is one of many volunteers who donated their time to design, construct and maintain the trail year round.

“The Putnam Trust has been a huge help in getting this trail built,” Hagan said. “I think people will enjoy and use the trail on the other side of the river.”

The Houlton Town Council officially accepted the grant funds during a Dec. 13 meeting, and also approved a limited use license agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation to construct the new loop.

The Riverfront Park hiking trail is a three-mile walk along the Meduxnekeag River, starting and ending at Riverfront Park in downtown Houlton. The trail features picturesque views of the river, as well as a few more challenging inclines for hikers.

Back in July, the town’s Planning Board approved a shoreland zoning application from Gary Hagan to construct a 1.7-mile trail extension on the easterly side of the Meduxnekeag River. Once complete, it will connect with the existing Riverfront Trail, creating a nearly 5-mile path for hikers on both sides of the river.

The Riverfront Park hiking trail has been one of the crown jewels for the redevelopment of the park. The last addition to the trail came after the town received a $50,000 grant from the Putnam Trust in 2018. 

Because the trail will cross the Meduxnekeag River, the group is partnering with local ATV clubs to create footbridges over Cooks Brook and Jimmy Brook for hikers. No portion of the trail will be open to motorized vehicles such as ATVs or UTVs, according to Hagan.

The trail will be 5.5 feet wide and 25 feet from the water. Some portions of the new trail will be very steep and only wide enough for one person, Hagan explained. Tree removal will be kept to a minimum to preserve the natural beauty of the area, he added.

Houlton town councilor Eileen McLaughlin expressed safety concerns for the proposed trail expansion and asked if an engineering study had been done.

“I think we need to revisit the discussion about the width of the trail, its incline and safety (as well as) the age appropriateness for youth,” McLaughlin said. “There were community members who also had concerns about it (the expansion).”

Anderson said the town will work in partnership with MDOT to make sure the new trail expansion is posted accordingly for safety purposes, similar to how trails in Baxter State Park are labeled.

“We are still just working on developing the trail at this point,” Anderson said.

Hagan has said in the past that construction of the trail expansion would take approximately two to three years to complete.