Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Augusta Greenway Trail


Paralleling the Kennebec River on its east bank, the Augusta Greenway Trail offers a quiet alternative to the busier Rail Trail. Although this gravel walkway dead-ends after only a mile, it offers a pleasant, shady stroll with numerous granite benches for resting and viewing the river. The Greenway is a lesson in contrast; it gives visitors a view of the underbelly of Augusta—Memorial Bridge, the snow dump, stormwater overflow pipes, invasive plants—while at the same time birdsong chimes from the trees and shrubs along the trail and cooling breezes drift up from the river. Signs showing a map of the Greenway and providing information about the river’s wildlife appear frequently along the trail. Unfortunately the signs, as well as many of the granite benches have been marred by graffiti.

Getting There
The Augusta Greenway Trail officially starts at the northern terminus of the Kennebec River Rail Trail, in the Maine State Housing Authority parking lot, proceeds north through the Waterfront Park, crosses the river on the Father Curran bridge and then heads south behind Old Fort Western and City Hall. However, if you’re not meeting the Greenway from the KRRT and want to avoid all that urban interface, start from Eastside Boat Landing Park. Take Arsenal Street from Cony/Bridge Street, turn right on Williams Street just past Augusta City Center, and left onto Howard Street, which takes you into the park.

The Trail
Distance: 1 mile (one-way)
Walking time: 1 hour (round-trip)
Difficulty: Easy

From Eastside Boat Landing Park, the Augusta Greenway Trail proceeds south along the river, passing under Memorial Bridge and along the snow dump. The trail takes a fairly straight and level path under a canopy of box elders and other hardwood trees. At about the halfway point, the trail climbs a slight rise and comes into an open area, passing by the soon-to-be-redeveloped Kennebec Arsenal. This collection of eight granite buildings and the recently-restored retaining wall and wharf dates back to the Northeast Boundary Conflict and is the best surviving example of an early nineteenth century munitions depot. Be sure to take a short side trip down the steep granite staircase to get a closer look at the magnificent retaining wall and dock, made up of enormous blocks of granite, and recently restored through a Save America’s Treasures grant. South of the Arsenal, the Greenway becomes wooded again. This part of the trail seems wider and more road-like than the northern segment, perhaps for some maintenance purpose. At a point almost directly behind Riverview Psychiatric Center, the Greenway dead-ends, with no established connecting trails through the AMHI campus to the nearby Arboretum. An adventuresome hiker might choose to climb the steep, weedy hill here or a few-hundred yards north, just below the giant smokestack, but for the casual walker, turning around and returning to the starting point offers the best bet.

Kid-Friendly Factor
The Greenway’s broad, level path is great for strollers, although those with bigger, chunkier wheels do better on its gravel surface. The fairly short distance makes it do-able for beginning hikers or bikers, and they may feel more comfortable on this trail than the busier Rail Trail. The Eastside Park has a beautiful playground for pre- or post-hiking fun, although I avoid it with my toddlers because the smaller slides and ladders are part of the same structure as very high platforms and ladders that make me nervous with two little ones. The park also has picnic tables and a small grassy area for running around.

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