The Down East Sunrise Trail in Washington County continues to be open for early snowmobile use this winter, according to Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and Maine Department of Transportation officials.

Construction work will continue on portions of the trail through the end of December and into the New Year. On the portions designated as winter use-only, there still are hazards on the trail, such as washouts. Trail conditions are not ideal as work continues, and trail users must be aware of these hazards, officials warn.

The Down East Sunrise Trail Project is an interagency effort that is rehabilitating and preserving the 85-mile Calais Branch rail corridor for future rail use as well as providing a wide, gravel-based, multi-use recreational trail.

“We want people to enjoy the trail as it stands, but users must remember that the trail west of Machias isn’t finished and won’t be for some time,” said John Picher, BPL’s director of engineering and realty. “Those using the trail west of Machias need to ride with care.”

In particular, snowmobilers, skiers, walkers, and mushers must stay off the closed bridges of the trail until such time as the construction work is completed. Work will continue the spring of 2010 and into the remainder of the year until the entire rail bed is rehabilitated and the trail is finalized and accepted. Due to safety concerns for both the public and work crews, aggressive trespass enforcement is planned on all closed trail segments in the spring.

The Down East Sunrise Trail is a unique interagency effort to rehabilitate and preserve 85 miles of rail corridor in Washington County for future rail use, as well as to provide a wide, compact gravel-based, multi-use trail for snowmobilers, ATVers, pedestrians, bicyclists, cross-country skiers, equestrians and many other outdoor enthusiasts. The trail is overseen by the MaineDOT, but BPL is contracted to manage it. MaineDOT purchased the Calais Branch Corridor from Maine Central Railroad in 1987, in order to preserve the corridor for future rail use.

Thirty-two miles of the trail stretching from Route 1 in Machias to Ayers Junction in Pembroke were opened this October with a ceremony attended by Maine DOT and MDOC officials. This is the first section of the full 85-mile long, multi-use trail to open, and the trail portion is complete with a compacted gravel surface, improved drainage and new bridges. The full length of the trail is expected to open next fall.

The section open for winter and summer use is located from the boxcar near Helen’s Restaurant in Machias to the eastern end at Ayres Junction off Route 214 in Pembroke. A section east of Ayers Junction is open to Calais and Perry, but the Calais section still has rails and ties in place so it may be hazardous to use until snow accumulates well over the rail. Riders are encouraged to call ahead to the local clubs maintaining those sections.
With the exception of a section in Schoodic Bog in Franklin, rail and ties were removed from the rail bed from Machias west to the west end at Washington Junction off the Eastern Road in Hancock, about two miles from Ellsworth. In some areas, there still are construction materials alongside the trail. Officials warn that users must operate with extreme caution. In addition, in the locations where drainage work has not been completed, there are small washouts that create cross-trail hazards.

The trail also is graveled from Machias to Jonesboro Station, about 10 miles, but is open only for winter use.

West of Machias, work proceeds on bridges, which may be completed as early as the end of December. Then the entire trail is expected to be open for snowmobiling. Until the work is completed, snowmobiles must stay off the closed bridges.

When trail work commences in the spring of 2010, the portion west of Machias will be shut down to public use so work crews can complete drainage and install gravel surface material, Picher said.

To prevent wheel rutting, all graveled sections may be posted closed until late spring, he said.

Parking lots have been constructed at Ayres Junction and Washington Junction, but more parking areas will be made available when the trail is finally opened, Picher said.

For more information, go online to: http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks/programs/snowmobile/suntrail.html

VillageSoup sports staff can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at sports@villagesoup.com.