BETHEL – Despite snow on the ground Friday, about a dozen Bethel Area Trails members hiked from Davis Park beside Route 26 and along the outer perimeter of the Mahoosuc Land Trust’s nearby scenic Intervale Gateway parcel.

The outing was a field trip designed to envision the first phase of what is hoped will eventually become a nonmotorized hardened path to SAD 44’s Telstar school complex.

The group was trying to determine where best to build a 1,500-yard loop path, how many bridges and boardwalks would be needed to cross a half-acre vernal pool outlet in a wetland, and where to put benches to maximize the mountain vista experience, and a parking lot. It was also a planning trip to figure out how much money, materials and labor will be needed.

“We’re trying to branch out from the middle and see how far we can go,” Bonnie Pooley said. The middle being Davis Park and the popular Bethel Pathway, a half-mile paved trail along the Androscoggin River.

Late last year, the Androscoggin River beside Route 2 was crossed by the longest recreational/snowmobile bridge in Maine, suddenly making it possible to create a trail connecting Bethel Village to Newry, Sunday River Ski Resort, the Appalachian Trail, and a nearly-complete 42-mile Grafton Loop backpacking trail in the rugged Mahoosuc mountain range.

Bethel Area Trails is a Mahoosuc Land Trust committee that formed in 2004 to expand the pathway system in the Bethel area. They saw it as an opportunity to promote health and exercise, provide public access to local natural and cultural assets, and, to support compatible tourism business.

Pooley said the group’s aim is to promote health and exercise and a multi-purpose trail system being designed for residents and visitors. The system is expected to also encourage a sustainable local economy while providing safe alternatives to automobile transportation.

The first phase of a plan to connect the Pathway, which opened in April 2002, to Angevine Park and the town’s man-made swimming pool via the North Road, will be paved this spring.

Pooley said that extension goes across the new bridge over the Androscoggin, loops around and passes under that bridge and the Route 2 bridge, skirts the BIG Adventure Center along the river, and ends at North Road, about two miles east of Angevine Park.

“We’re now looking at ways to go out to the pool, and behind businesses in Mayville, like the Good Food Store, so that anyone visiting Bethel could go in a number of directions,” she said.

That’s why getting a grant that pays for consultant Burnham Martin was a big plus.

Martin, of Brunswick, works for the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.

“He’s been just incredible, because he’s got an idea of what’s going on in the state in terms of trails and parks. But, getting the snowmobile bridge has really been the heart of this thing, because with it, we can go in so many different directions,” Pooley said.

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