Path worth taking

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The Androscoggin Bike Path in Brunswick offers 2.63 miles of pristine territory for outdoor enthusiasts.

Along a beautiful section of the Androscoggin River that separates Topsham and Brunswick, the Androscoggin Bike Path in Brunswick is a visual and aesthetic treat for all who visit it.

Walkers, joggers, cyclists and roller bladers frequent it. It is not unusual to encounter parents walking their infants in strollers or wheel-chair users out for exercise and fresh air. On sunny weekends, hundreds seek out its benefits.

It has become a social gathering spot for regular users and a destination point for visitors from away.

The path is 2.63 miles long and is paralleled by the Androscoggin River on the north and Route 1 on the south. It is completely paved and is 14 feet wide for most of its length. A painted white line attempts to separate those with wheels from those without. It has numerous amenities, including dog-waste cleanup facilities, benches and three emergency phones located strategically along the path. There are also two outhouses placed a short distance from the east and west access points in Brunswick. An athletic field abuts the path near the in-town trailhead.

It is maintained by the Brunswick Parks and Recreation Department. The path is open year-round. In the winter, it is plowed and salted. It is obvious the town places a high priority on keeping the path in almost immaculate condition.

Although nearby Route 1 traffic tends to be noisy, users can’t help but enjoy the panoramic views and numerous river overlooks. Walkers frequently stop to socialize, while cyclists, joggers and roller bladers breeze past. On a busy day, the variety of users gives it an almost chaotic appearance. Yet, it seems to function remarkably well.

Flora and fauna are abundant. Landscaping includes a wide variety of plants and flowers. Bird life is particularly plentiful along this stretch of the river, and includes eagles, ospreys and ducks. It is not unusual to spot a ground hog, fox or deer in the wooded areas near the path.

The trail has been designated as a part of the East Coast Greenway (ECG). The ECG is a planned 2,960-mile, off-road trail system linking major towns and cities from Calais, Maine to Key West, Fla. When completed, it is anticipated that it will constitute a continuous urban path for walkers, cyclists and other non-vehicular users extending the length of the eastern seaboard.

The path was built at a cost of $1.4 million, and it opened in 1998. The Brunswick Rotary Club was instrumental in raising local funds for its construction. It was immediately popular, and town officials now consider it to be one of its most successful community projects.

So much so, that surrounding communities are trying to get in on the act. Topsham is exploring the possibility of a 2.4 mile extension that will weave circuitously through town. There is also a proposal to extend the path easterly 7.2 miles to Bath. Both would be expensive projects, but many believe the possible economic, recreational and health benefits will justify the costs.

The path also functions as a pedestrian and bicycle connector between in-town Brunswick and Cook’s Corner, which is a busy shopping area on the eastern side of town. The in-town path access can be reached by turning east onto Mason Street from the north end of Brunswick’s Maine Street. Then take the first left onto Water Street and travel to the end, where a large parking area is located.

The eastern access can be reached by taking the Cook’s Corner exit from Route 1. At the first light, turn left onto Old Route 1 and travel about a half-mile. Take a left turn onto the Old Bath Road, cross over Route 1 and take a left turn onto Grover Lane and follow it to the end. There is a small parking area near the path’s entrance, but it is quite a bit more limited in space than the in-town access.

It is also possible to access the path from Topsham. The connecting path begins on the Middlesex Road near the base of the Coastal Connector Bridge, which attaches Interstate 295 with Route 1 via Route 196. There is no parking at this trailhead. However, there is a bicycle lane that follows easterly along the Middlesex Road and then right onto the Foreside Road for about a mile to a sizable parking area adjacent to an athletic field and complex.

The Cook’s Corner end of the path crosses the site of the former Merrymeeting Park. Built in 1898, the 135-acre amusement park was a hub of activity in its day. It featured a zoo, 4,000-seat amphitheater and a three-story restaurant and dance hall.

A trolley car system connected it with Lewiston, Brunswick and Bath. It closed in 1909 and has now reverted to a near natural state. A small rest stop and information booth detailing the history of the park has been constructed next to the path near its original location.

The in-town parking area in Brunswick is only open from one half-hour before sunrise until one half-hour after sunset. The parking area gate is locked at night. There is also an Androscoggin River boat landing next to the parking area that is frequented by fishermen, recreational boaters and kayakers. It is about a six-mile river trip from the landing to the beautiful Merrymeeting Bay.

There are several alternatives for cyclists who want a longer ride than the bike path provides, but want to incorporate it into their trip. Perhaps the best choice is following the Foreside Road in Topsham further north from the parking area to Route 24, which is about five additional miles. This is a lightly traveled scenic side road that passes by rural homes and farms and is a popular bicycle ride in itself. Another alternative is to continue east from the Grover Lane access and ride the Old Bath Road or take a short ride to the end of Storer Road, which is the first left after leaving Grover Lane.

Several other Maine communities have recognized the many benefits of off-road paths. Portland, Lisbon, Gardiner, Augusta, South Portland and others have constructed similar paths that have experienced instant popularity.

It is the hope and vision of many that the Androscoggin Bike Path is part of a trend that will expand to virtually every significant Maine community. If the Brunswick experiment is a fair indication, we’ll all be the better for it.

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