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Kennebec River Rail Trail - A Central Maine Gem

Updated on October 9, 2010

It is 5:30 in the morning and I am heading out the door with my dog. The sun is a glint of gold reflected in the steely gray water of the Kennebec River. I am off to walk the Kennebec River Rail Trail before heading to work. I walk every morning, and have for the past year and a half. And I am not alone; even at this early hour I will see many bikers, joggers, dog walkers, and the such making there way through the cold, damp morning. There is little to match the sights and sounds of morning along the trail. And though the river has undergone substantial changes in the past 250 years, it remains an important part of the lives of the people of this area, thanks in part to the trail itself.

The Kennebec River Rail Trail is a 6.5 mile paved trail that snakes it's way along the banks of the Kennebec River from Augusta to Gardiner. The trail begins at the base of the Memorial Bridge in Augusta, just steps from Augusta's downtown. It extends along the Maine Department of Transportation rail corridor. About two miles in, the trail merges with Water Street in Hallowell for about half a mile, it then crosses Vaughn Brook and cuts under the Rt 201 overpass, where it reunites with Kennebec River. At the Gardiner end the trail passes under the Gardiner Randolph bridge and ends in the Hannaford Parking lot, which is a short walk from Gardiner's downtown and waterfront park.

I can't help but pondering, while walking away my sluggish sleep thoughts, the history of the river and the rail. The Native Americans used the Kennebec River for fishing and transportation, as did early explorers. And as the area became settled the river became a key hub of industry, ferrying goods and people. When the river froze in the winter it became a highway for sleds to do the same, with the added bonus of ice harvesting, which peaked in the late 19th century. In the 20th century the river became a tool for the paper and pulp industry, which was an important economic force in early riverfront communities, and in turn necessitated the building of a railroad to move people and goods around the growing metropolises. It was this industry, in the end, that savagely distressed the river's waters. Mills and log drives left the Kennebec River polluted to the point where any uses, recreational or otherwise, were practically unimaginable. As the paper industry began to move overseas there were movements to clean the river, helped by the nations new found interest in preservation and restoration of clean water. Time and money (public and private) were now funneled into the river, and in time the river's water quality improved. The mid 1980s found the river cleaner then many had hoped possible.

In the late 1990s the trail was begun, and the final section was completed in 2007. Walking the trail is a pleasure. Despite it's proximity to semi-urban areas many sections of the trail offer a wonderful solitude, far from roads, buildings, and commerce. Bald eagles and osprey frequent the river and it's banks and are a common sight. There are several small waterfalls and streams, and a quaint wooden bridge in Hallowell. You can see the capital building's dome from various vantage points along the trail, or peer at the abandoned granite buildings that once housed the now defunct Augusta Mental Hospital's residents across the river.

There is ample opportunity to participate in my favorite activity while exploring the trail, eating. With a variety of restaurants within easy proximity to the trail I recommend the following : In Augusta's downtown- Riverfront BBQ, or Chase Farm Bakery. In Hallowell - Slate's Bakery, The Bangkok Cafe, or The Liberal Cup. In Gardiner - A-1 Diner, A-1 To Go Community Market & Cafe, Sweet Love, or Pastaz.

This trail is an amazing treasure and asset to the area and the people who live and work in central Maine. It offers beautiful views of the river, and a chance to explore the towns the trail passes through. It is also an excellent means of navigating between the four towns on foot or bike, thereby reducing CO2 emissions. Whether used for exercise, a leisurely stroll, or a means of transport, the trail is a wonderful addition to our community, and is certainly worth checking out.


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    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Kewl place, thanks for sharing, was visiting a friend last year up at the town that is the eastern most part of U.S.-walked some fantastic trails around there-friend said locals never use-suppose we humans just take things for granted sometimes in our on back yard.

    • profile image

      Leah T 7 years ago

      Nice article. You should definitely write more often.

    • profile image

      fretless 7 years ago

      eryne -

      a lovely article. i agree - it's a treasure. maybe even the best part of augusta.

      also, let's walk sometime soon on the new trails up near the airport.

    • fetty profile image

      fetty 7 years ago from South Jersey

      Wonderful tour I have visited Maine but never knew about the Kennebec River Rail. I will be sure to walk this after your fine hub. Thank you.