The bike bridge across Scarborough Marsh had beckoned to me for several years. Now, on this Father’s Day, we decided to discover it.
At the time (a few years ago), my son was still building confidence as a bike rider and wasn’t too keen on riding the busy roads with non-existent shoulders found in my town and much of southern Maine. So, we loaded up the car with the bikes, and set out for Thornton Academy in Saco, Maine, where we could park and then ride on an Eastern Trail bike path eight miles to Scarborough.
As a bonus (or maybe a bribe), we planned to finish the day with some rounds of skee ball at the arcade in Old Orchard Beach.
From Saco to Scarborough, the miles flew by on the easy grade of an old railroad bed. As we peddled through a shady of tunnel of trees, I remembered why I love to ride my bike–the feeling of freedom generated by effortless forward momentum. Other bikers and walkers were using the path, but it wasn’t crowded. The packed dirt trail attracts mostly families and recreational riders rather than hard-core road bikers, so we didn’t feel intimidated by packs of fast-moving cyclists.
We blinked as we rode out of the woods at Pine Point Road, which the trail crosses and then enters a parking lot for the bridge. Here, the trail was busy with a mix of walkers, riders, and kids on their first bikes, all drawn by the bridge and the beauty of the marsh.
The trail continued for an additional three miles or so after the bridge. Wild geraniums and buttercups blossomed alongside the path. I easily could have continued on to Bug Light.
But I knew that a 16-mile ride (round-trip) was long enough for a kid, so we turned around and rode back to Saco, on what seemed like faster miles on a downhill grade (although in reality, I suspect the grade shifts up and down all along the trail).
These off-road sections of the Trail are built upon the one-time Eastern Railroad corridor, first constructed in 1842. The views have changed as the forest has grown up around old fields and pasture, but I liked the idea that we were traveling on a path that had carried so many people, and continues to do so today.
Sources and resources
Ambitious riders can ride from Kennebunk to Scarborough on mostly bike path, with a small stretch of road riding from Biddeford to Saco. The Kennebunk to Biddeford stretch is a woods ride, except for the bike-pedestrian bridge that crosses the Maine Turnpike.
To see more of the Eastern Trail, consider signing up for the Maine Lighthouse Ride, an annual September event sponsored by the Eastern Trail Alliance, and which offers riders various route choices, including 25-mile, 40-mile, 60-mile and century rides. A couple of years back, I signed up for the 40-mile ride, which cycled past a half-dozen lighthouses and over the Scarborough Marsh bridge. The ride was mostly flat and easy. Next time, I’ll sign up for the 60-mile ride.
Currently, the Eastern Trail Alliance is raising money to build a bridge over the Nonesuch River in Scarborough, so that bikers can ride off road all the way from Kennebunk to Bug Light, South Portland.
The old railroad right-of-way through which the Eastern Trail passes is now owned by Unitil, a New Hampshire-based public utilities company. Back in the 1960s, Portland Gas Light bought up much of the abandoned Eastern Railroad corridor and installed a natural gas pipeline that still operates today. Read more about the history of the trail here.