Norway Branch Railroad President Dennis Gray cuts the ribbon at the new Rail to Trail project in downtown Norway. (Provided photo)

NORWAY — It’s been a long road for the Rail to Trail project, but it’s finally finished.

On Nov. 15, the ribbon was cut for the 4.9-mile path at the trailhead across from the Norway Police Department.

Located on the rails of the former historic Norway Branch Railroad, the recreational trail has incubated since the 1980s, when a group of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School students got backing for the project, but were voted down at a town meeting.

The project was revitalized in 2012, when the town received a grant from the Davis Conservation Foundation to survey the site. According to former Norway Downtown President Andrea Burns, a longtime member of the Rail to Trail board, pushed along but progress started to pick up when Town Manager Dennis Lajoie joined the team.

The project received a $76,500 grant from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Land, and a $25,000 grant from New Balance shoe company. More support came from the Davis Conservation Foundation and Norway Savings Bank. Groups of volunteers cleared brush and removed railroad ties to make the trail handicap accessible.

Heather MacIsaac, a human resource representative for New Balance, said the company was happy to help the cause.

“We’re an athletic company, so we want to help people go out and enjoy the community,” she said at the opening ceremony. “We look forward to how many people are going to utilize the trail.”

The trail extends from downtown Norway to other parts of town, and is part of a large, informal figure-eight system of off-road trails and sidewalks that can take users from Norway to the athletic fields at Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris and eventually to Market Square in Paris.

The trail allows people a quick walk on their lunch break or a day exploring the area.

“It’s quite a walk and quite a system to have downtown,” Burns said.

Dennis Gray, president of the Norway Branch Railroad, said the railroad helped to build the economies of Paris and Norway.

“It was 140 years ago, in 1879, that the town of Norway and some of its citizens got together and built the Norway Branch Railroad from South Paris to the Town of Norway as an economic development tool,” he said. “It served the town very well for all those years, but has come to the end of its usage, and it’s going to become something different; this marvelous rail-trail … it was good for the town then, and it will be good for the town in the future.”

Trail board members included Miranda Ward of The Progress Center, Brendan Schauffler of Healthy Oxford Hills, Carl Costanzi of Stephens Memorial Hospital, Lee Dassler of the Western Foothill Land Trust, Andrea Burns of Norway Downtown and Brenda Melhus of Norway Brewing Co.

Rob Prue of Pine Tree Engineering and Bernard Construction also worked on the project. Burnham Martin, Maine project manager for the National Park Service, also helped.

According to Norway Parks and Recreation Director Deb Partridge, before the ribbon-cutting a person in a wheelchair personally thanked her for providing an accessible trail that helped her get out into the woods.

“We’ve seen so many people be so happy that this is here today,” she said.

That was evidenced by a group of students who, shortly before the ribbon was to be cut, bashfully interrupted the ceremony, slipped under the red ribbon and continued along the trail.

“We’re eternally grateful. It’s been a long time,” Burns said.

 

 

 

 


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