Bike-share program takes off in Machias

In Machias, Healthy Acadia staffer Angela Fochesato (left) takes Out & About reporter Lily Cusack for a spin along the Downeast Sunrise Trail that stretches from the town of Hancock to Ayres Junction in Washington County. They are riding bikes that can be borrowed for free as part of the newly established bike-share program. PHOTO BY KATHRYN CAWDREY

On a bright, sunny day, about 10 old, but functional bicycles await riders under an awning outside the Healthy Acadia office in downtown Machias.

Although they bikes are well-worn and in some cases rusted, they represent the beginning of a bike-share program that the community health program’s manager, Angela Fochesato, launched about a year ago in the Washington County seat.

“These are our backups, spares, loaners… They’re good bikes, but they’re old bikes,” Fochesato explained, offering a purple and blue single-speed Huffy Cranbrook and a purple Roadmaster Ground Assault to two out-of-town visitors.

Both the older bikes, which were donated by local residents and businesses, and Healthy Acadia’s newly acquired fleet can be borrowed free of charge.

Acadia’s bike-share program is part of an initiative to provide visitors with an alternative way to see the once bustling lumber town that straddles the Machias River and the roaring Bad Little Falls. Below the waterfall, the river empties out into Machias Bay.

In Machias and beyond, the local economy is dictated by the seasons. Natural resources remain the prime source of income for many local residents, some of whom harvest timber and/or wild, low-bush blueberries. Others fish for lobster, dig clams and other shellfish. Collecting balsam fir and making Christmas wreaths is another industry.

Climbing herself onto a blue Trek 820 Antelope, Fochesato takes her visitors on a tour to see some of the noteworthy sights. She points out the Porter Memorial Library, where the base of the fireplace was formed with ballast stones from the captured British warship Margaretta during the Revolutionary War.

A soaring white steeple, belonging to the Centre Street Congregational Church, dominating the town’s skyline, is visible from miles away. In the belfry hangs a bell cast by Paul Revere’s foundry in Boston’s North End.

Peddling farther east, the Machias Bay Chamber of Commerce (2 Kilton Lane) can be found in the former 1898 Machias Railroad Station. The refurbished, red and green building stands on the north side of Route 1.

“We have a lot of history here, and we want people to stop here,” Fochesato said. “We want a thriving downtown for our college students and for our young people to have a place to go and things to do.”

Bike borrowers are not confined to the Machias area. The bikes can be taken anywhere as long as they are returned to the same location they were picked up at.

“If they want to loan [borrow] a bike for the day and go to West Quoddy Head, which is in Lubec, and use it to bike around there, they can do that,” Fochesato said.

The Downeast Sunrise Trail runs through Machias and is a popular biking destination for tourists.

“The Sunrise Trail can take you as far as Calais or to Ellsworth, and along the way, you can stop in all the different towns,” Fochesato noted. “It gets you access to a lot of areas that you want to go to, but you don’t have to be on the road.”

Borrowing a bike is simple. People stop by either the Machias Bay Chamber of Commerce or Axiom Technologies (3 Water St.), where they sign a waiver, leave their driver’s license and pick their bicycle of choice. The bike must be returned to the same location when they are done.

Originally from Machias, Fochesato biked extensively around the world — Norway, France, Italy and Canada — before returning to her hometown. In her travels, she also took advantage of bike-share programs in Portland, Ore., and San Francisco.

“In Europe, everyone rides bikes,” the avid cyclist related. “It can happen here, too.”

Fochesato also hopes to promote bicycling as a way to get around in the local community.

“Kids, when they were younger, that’s what they did; they biked,” she recalled. “I biked when I was a kid, and kids just don’t do it now. It needs to be brought back.”

For more info, contact Angela Fochesato at 225-3741.