Maine’s Sunrise Trail boasts rich wildlife, scenic views
Looking to take a bike ride but don’t want to battle the crowds in Acadia National Park? You’re in luck, because there’s 89 miles (nearly double the park’s 45 miles of carriage roads) starting right in Ellsworth and continuing all the way to Ayers Junction in the Washington County town of Pembroke.
The Down East Sunrise Trail, a former rail bed measuring 12 feet in width and surfaced with gravel and crushed concrete trail, is the longest off-road stretch of the East Coast Greenway, running from Maine to Florida.
To hop on the trail in Ellsworth, park in a designated lot just over the city line at 2 Railroad Siding Road off the Washington Junction Road in Hancock. Be sure to check out the railroad cars being restored by volunteers from the Downeast Scenic Railroad while you’re there. The GPS address is: Latitude and longitude 44.58828,-68.23151 The first 6 miles of the trail, which meanders along the former Calais Branch Railroad Corridor through bog and marsh, is crushed concrete, fine for road bikes. But past that, the trail becomes gravel, and a bike with wider, sturdier tires is a better choice for the bumpier surface. The grade is relatively gentle throughout, with the highest point at 285 feet above sea level, according to ridewithgps.com.
The entire trail has plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching, said Bayley Grant, who manages the trail for the state of Maine.
Beavers, moose, eagles, wild turkeys and white tail deer make their homes along the corridor, said Grant, adding that his favorite spots are the sections of the trail running between Machias and East Machias.
There, said Grant, the trail “goes right out
along the bay,” eventually crossing Marshall Point and skirting the edge of the East Machias River. “There’s water on both sides, there’s osprey, there’s eagles.”
“I watched an osprey come down and get a bird out of the water and an eagle tried to steal it from him,” he said.
Grant said he also loves the Schoodic Bog area in Sullivan, with its striking views of Schoodic Mountain and bird watching, including more osprey and eagles. Bring a picnic and a bathing suit to take a dip in Donnell Pond a bit before Mile Post 18 at the intersection of ME 183 (Tunk Lake Road).
“It’s just a really neat place,” said Grant.
Conversion of the former Calais Branch Railroad Corridor, which began carrying passengers in 1898 from Brewer to Calais, started after rail service ceased in 1987 and the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT), which had acquired the corridor, decided it was too expensive to bring rail service back.
Construction for recreational use, spearheaded by MDOT, local municipalities, the National Park Service and local trail groups, began in 2008 and continued until 2010. Substandard rails were removed, washouts were repaired, decking was placed over bridges and a 12-foot-wide compact gravel base was laid. The Sunrise Trail Coalition was enlisted to provide public support for the trail manager and to represent the various interests of the multiple groups that use the trail.
A final 2.2-mile section from Hancock’s Washington Junction to High Street in Ellsworth was completed in 2016.
The trail, which also is heavily used by horseback riders, ATVers and walkers, has a number of restrooms, which are open despite the pandemic, said Grant. The trail does pass through a number of town centers and areas where adventurers can stop for food and other supplies. Heading east, the mileage between stops increases, but is clearly marked.
What to bring depends largely on how long you plan on being out for. Leisurely cyclists might want to spend several days taking in the sights and camp along the way, which is allowed anywhere along the trail, but there are designated campsites, including some at Donnell Pond Public Lands.
Some restaurants in towns along the way may be open, said Grant, despite coronavirus, but it’s a good idea to bring snacks and water. Visitors to any enterprises along the trail should follow health guidelines for physical distancing and wear face coverings where physical distancing isn’t possible.
Since servicing and repair for bicycles may be hard to find in spots, cyclists should bring what they need to fix a flat, including a spare tube, patch kit, tire pump, tire lever and multi-tool with Allen wrenches. Dress for the weather and bring sunscreen, as much of the trail is exposed.
Headlights and taillights are a good idea as well, as the trail can be dusty in areas and cyclists should be sure they’re visible to motorized vehicles.
“It’s hard to keep the surface packed hard and whatever because everything’s drying out,” said Grant. “What we really need is a couple days of steady rain. Some of those rivers are just down to trickles.”
For more information and maps of the trail, including information on restrooms, camping and food, visit https://www. sunrisetrail.org/.