Scenic Rail in Washington County –
an Economic Beacon
Letter to the Editor in Response to the August 2, 2005 story:
Baldacci’s Envoy Makes Visit Down East
“Hancock County gets about 24% of the state’s tourist visits, Washington County gets only about 1.5%.” Imagine what the percentage could look like for Washington County if the Downeast Scenic Rail is able to establish it’s operation in the Ellsworth Area and expand into Western Washington County with Phase II of the plan. The current proposals for tourist rail excursions west from Ellsworth are based on a marketing study that indicates first year ridership in excess of 70,000. If just one third that number could travel east from Ellsworth instead, through the spectacular Schoodic Bog and Tunk Reserve Area to western Washington County , imagine what economic activity would be generated along the line in Franklin and the Cherryfield area! Like the Skunk Train of Eastport, California, bikers and hikers would be dropped at trail heads near Schoodic Mountain and the Donnell Pond region, Tunk Mountain State Preserve and it’s trail network or make the coastal loop back to Ellsworth and Acadia via the proposed Greenway bike trail along Route One. Imagine you and your sweetheart getting off the train at a “flag Stop” and walking a few steps to a quaint B & B in Franklin! Other tourist riders would be fed, toured and entertained in the Cherryfield area with local entrepreneurs providing the tourist services. Seasonal jobs would be created and pride would swell in the local communities resulting in the kind of “sprucing up” that comes with many tourists visiting your town. In Washington County, everybody would be looking for a way to cash in on the visitors.
In 1997, when the Maine Line Moose Train was proposed for the Ellsworth – Cherryfield stretch of the Calais Branch Railroad, Cherryfield had developed a plan to accommodate the thousands of anticipated tourist riders. Local people were excited with the prospect of the Train that would have not only provide a number of seasonal jobs and economic opportunities but would have provided an economic “Beacon of Hope” in Southwest Washington County. The State DOT did not support the plan and turned down the Lease Application. The plan was simple: Bill McDonald, Owner of the Mt. Dora (Florida) Scenic Rail Company would ship his scenic rail “Doodlebugs” from Florida to Maine during their summer off-season and operate them Down East. West Transportation of Steuben and Mt. Dora would have provided scenic tours of the barrens, down east coast, etc. The local Cherryfield Improvement Committee had plans for restoration of the Cherryfield 1898 Train Station, buggie rides, entertainment, blueberry heritage, afternoon tours and tea at local historic homes, etc.
Now is not the time to tear up the tracks into Washington County when we have a potential economic boon poised on the horizon to operate on those rails. Those of us who know our area believe that preserving the tracks through tourist trains will be a catalyst to other economic improvement. What I, however, find most troubling are the rumors that the reasons for proposing the rail removal are largely political, that outside environmentalists want the track out of Schoodic Bog in Franklin at all costs. If so, it can only be as a strategy to prevent economic development in Washington County. Any future development of our natural resource industries will require rail freight. Removing the rails goes hand in hand with converting much of eastern and northern Maine into National Parks. Moreover, these same environmentalists will certainly not want motorized traffic on the proposed “Trail” to be constructed on the rail right-of-way. Do the ATV riders who expect to be able to use the trail know this?
Rail removal will benefit a privileged few who have the leisure time, health and money to treat our part of the world as a park for their enjoyment. Rail restoration will create jobs - both seasonal jobs, for the tourist trade, and eventually year-round jobs as rail freight opportunities develop. This is an appeal to Governor Baldacci and DOT Commissioner Cole not to rush the rail removal but give the Downeast Scenic Rail a chance to show that it will work because scenic rail has a chance to be followed by freight traffic.
— Peter Duston, Cherryfield