About 20 years after it was conceived, Lisbon’s trail system attracts regulars and visitors alike for its beauty, history and serenity.
It’s hard to imagine what life was like before the automobile freed people from geographic limitations. One thing is certain, whether our ancestors lived in a city or a town, they walked and they walked a lot.
If the automobile freed people, it also layered life with complexity and created a more sedentary lifestyle with unhealthy consequences like stress and obesity. For many towns and cities, the antidote to these modern ills has been the creation of community walking and cycling paths.
The town of Lisbon began planning a community walking and cycling path in 1999 with the formation of a Trails Commission and a feasibility study.
The first section of the trail to be undertaken, the Paper Mill Trail, was completed in 2004. The second portion of the trail, the Ricker Farm Trail, was completed in 2010. The crowning achievement of the project and the longest segment of the trail, the Androscoggin River Trail, opened in August 2014.
All together, the nearly 4-mile, paved, three-segment trail runs from a spot off Upland Road near Lisbon Center through woods and field, to the joining of the Androscoggin and Sabattus rivers, and then along the Androscoggin to Lisbon Falls, with several access points along the way.
Tracey Steuber, Lisbon’s Economic Development director, says the planning, permitting, design and construction of the most southern section of the trail — the Androscoggin River Trail portion — was a large and complex undertaking. It included two rail crossings of Maine Department of Transportation-owned tracks, right-of-way negotiations, and multiple environmental impact considerations given the trail’s proximity to the Androscoggin River, vernal pools, forested wetlands and five stream crossings.
These elements resulted in significant regulatory review by both the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Funded by a grant from the Maine Department of Transportation and local taxpayers, what was initially thought to be a short duration project lasted seven years and carried a final price tag of $1.975 million.
EXERCISE, WILDLIFE AND BEAUTY
On any given day on the Lisbon trail system, there are a variety of users and almost every form of locomotion, including sneaker power, wheelchairs, bicycles (with and without training wheels), roller blades, skateboards and scooters. There are dogs on leashes, families with strollers, runners and walkers alone or in groups, and even a pedicab was recently spotted. (See related story.)
It’s a four-season trail. Although it’s not plowed in the winter to prevent surface damage, local snowmobilers groom the trail by using it and keep it open for walking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Tim McClure and Zelda Smith, of Lisbon Falls, are both regular walkers. They walk from their home to the Androscoggin River Trail about four times a week and have been doing so for the last two or three years. They use the trail year-round, and McClure says he likes it because “it’s quiet and we don’t have to deal with cars.”
Smith says they’ve seen a variety of animals on the trail including “eagles and woodpeckers. . . . We even rescued a baby turtle on one of our walks,” she says. “It’s not a boring walk,” adds McClure. “There are hills.”
Paula Erdmann-Purdy, of Durham, walks the trail about twice a week with her 12-year-old Siberian husky, Shadow. She and Shadow walk about an 18-minute mile, with stops to observe the natural environment, including recent activities around the beaver lodge on the river’s edge.
Erdmann-Purdy has seen the beavers swimming and splashing around the lodge and spotted trees whittled by the semi-aquatic rodent. She says walking the Androscoggin River Trail is second only to Popham Beach for her. “Durham needs the same thing on the other side of the river,” she says.
Rosa McCausland, 10, of Durham, calls the trail “pretty good” for scootering. “It’s nice that the trail has hills,” she says. She brings her scooter to the path a few times a month and says “it’s kind of it for scooter paths” in the area.
Her mother, Jen McCausland, says she likes the view of the river that the trail offers. Mother and daughter have visited the trail in winter as well, with their 3-year-old dog, Sadie, pulling Rosa in a sled.
THREE TRAIL SEGMENTS, THREE TRAIL EXPERIENCES
Each of the three segments of the trail offers a different natural experience and makes for an enjoyable time outdoors. A popular access point to the trail system is located at the junction of Route 196 and Frost Hill Avenue. It comes near the middle of the trail system, at the head of the Androscoggin River Trail segment, and offers parking, a boat launch and a small, popular fishing spot.
The Paper Mill Trail section, which is about a mile in length, runs north from that access point, through a heavily wooded area, ending at the Lisbon Community School off Mill Street. An information kiosk at the Paper Mill Trail’s southerly trail head gives information about Lisbon’s early paper mills. There are also some unpaved paths through the woods, leading to the Sabattus river.
When you reach the Lisbon Community School, it’s like coming out of a cool and dark movie theater on a sunny day. If you want, you can then follow the sidewalk to Mill Street and continue on the Ricker Farm Trail segment, which extends three-quarters of a mile through what was once open farmland to the northerly end of the trail system.
Although new houses are now being built in the fields, there are still large, wide-open sections of pasture. The Botma family’s dairy farm is also visible from portions of this short walk.
The trail stops at a small gravel parking lot off Upland Road that can accommodate about five cars.
Trail users who start at the Route 196/Frost Hill Avenue access point and instead head south will enjoy the longest segment of the trail — approximately 1.75 miles that begins by going under Route 196. Worth noting: The Androscoggin River Trail section will take you behind the Big Dipper Ice Cream and MacDaddy’s Seafood & Tots food truck, both well-deserved treats.
The river is within sight on most of this trail segment. Near the midway point, an outcropping of ledge juts into the river and is a perfect spot to rest and enjoy the breeze. Durham’s Cedar Pond Road, on the opposite shore, is visible from here as well as from much of the walk.
Depending on the season, walkers might see and hear a track meet or a football game at the Lisbon schools athletic complex that abuts the trail near its southern end on Davis Street. Davis Street leads to Route 196 near the former Worumbo Mill in Lisbon Falls.
Lisbon Parks and Recreation Director Mark Stevens says the town recently added a new parking lot located off Capital Avenue for those wanting to use the trail. The 12-car lot is located before the Enterprise Electric garage, near the trail’s southern end.
Stevens says he’s surprised by “how many new people are discovering the trail for the first time.” He says Lisbon’s trail system is a great way to “tune out and get away from everything. The sounds of the river, the serenity . . . it’s such a bonus for Lisbon.”