NEW SHARON — It won't be long before paddlers will be able to enjoy a stretch of the Sandy River that up to now has been practically inaccessible.
A contractor hired by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is installing two ''carry-on'' ramps that will provide access to a five-mile meandering flatwater section of the Sandy.
One ramp is being constructed near the New Sharon-Farmington town line just below the rapids in Farmington Falls. The other is under way down river where Muddy Brook enters the Sandy near the New Sharon village. Access to the upriver site will be from Route 2, and the downriver site from the west end of Main Street near the former Muddy Brook bridge that has been condemned and removed.
As carry-on ramps, they are intended for small watercraft that can be carried on, such as canoes and kayaks, according to DIFW officials.
''They're not for trailers with motorized crafts,'' Leon Bucher, federal assistance coordinator for the department, said. "But one could use a motor as long as it can be hand carried.''
Construction began in mid-July and the project is expected to be completed in October. Once it is finished, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held, Bucher said.
Davis and Northrup of Parkman was the low bidder for the project at $96,000. Preconstruction engineering work as part of the permitting applications requirements with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection was done by Dirigo Engineering of Fairfield.
Three-quarters of the funding is coming from non-tax money raised through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sport fishing restoration program, while the remainder is mainly from revenue generated by sale of sportsmen license plates and gas taxes paid by users of outboard motors in Maine, according to Bucher.
"The whole thing is being paid for by users. There are no town or state funds involved,'' he said.
Each site will have a paved 60-by-60-foot paved parking lot and foot path to concrete ramps to the water's edge. Concrete steps will be built at the Farmington Falls site because of a steeper bank at that location. Bucher said. Each will have riprap and other erosion control systems.
The ramps were originally planned to be constructed in 2011, but were delayed so that a further environmental review could be done of the stretch, which is critical salmon habitat.
''We have all the required permits in hand. That's why we moved forward,'' Bucher said.
'''The reason we started this project years ago is there aren't many places to put in on that stretch,'' said Forrest Bonney, a retired trout regional biologist with the DIFW and a New Sharon selectman.
Brown and brook trout are stocked along the river, and the Atlantic Salmon Commission has placed salmon eggs upstream, Bonney said.
''I'm very excited and pleased,'' state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said of the project. Saviello, while a member of the Maine House, worked with local and state officials while serving on the Legislature's Fish and Wildlife Committee. He has been placed back on the same committee after being elected to the Senate two years ago. ''Last year we got a little disappointed (by the delay) because we had to show it wouldn't affect the salmon.''
''It's a beautiful stretch that has been totally unused,'' Ed Perkins of New Sharon said. ''Marshall Thombs (also a New Sharon resident) and I have been working on this for quite a while. We're very elated it's getting done.''