A few weeks ago, I wrote a column reminiscing about my childhood adventures along the former Air Line Railroad in my hometown of Portland and whether that portion of the former Boston to New York route would ever be converted to a hiking trail.
I lamented how Portland has never been able join its part of the railroad to the popular Air Line trail that travels a 50-mile-long path east to the Rhode Island border.
Recently I met with First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield and Planning and Land Use Administrator Deanna L. Rhodes, who said there has been a lot of "behind-the-scenes" planning over the past few years, including an application for a grant to improve a 2.7-mile section of the line from Depot Hill Road on the Portland/East Hampton border west to an area close to where the line once crossed Route 17.
Although the town didn't receive the grant to fund the improvements, the $1.57 million plan is still on the table.
"It's a competitive process with a lot of towns seeking the same money," Bransfield said. "We are waiting for our turn. A lot of people would love to connect to East Hampton and that is still a long-standing goal of ours."
This stretch of railroad bed in the eastern portion of town is intact, with much of the right-of-way owned by Northeast Utilities.
Rhodes said the company is amiable to seeing the section converted to a hiking trail. The western portion would come to an end at a gravel operation near the junction of Routes 66 and 17, with the path following a ridgeline and hooking up with Ames Hollow Road.
But with private ownership and removal of portions of the bed by development, there is no hope of extending the path farther west, Rhodes noted.
Local citizen advocacy groups, including the Jonah Center For Earth And Art and the Portland Brownstone Quorum, are getting involved in supporting the town's efforts.
State Rep. Melissa Ziobron, who represents East Hampton, East Haddam and Colchester, knows the importance of the trail in towns she represents and has offered to help.
"We can do something with our portion of the trail," Rhodes said. "There's still a lot of momentum out there. Trails are very important to a community and have a wonderful economic impact. So, yes, there is still hope."