Hitting the rail trail

Last modified: 4/22/2012 12:00:00 AM
His grandfather is credited with bringing a modern ski technique to New Hampshire from his hometown of St. Anton, Austria.

His father, a 10th Mountain Division veteran, managed and taught skiing at Cranmore and was instrumental in developing snow grooming and snowmaking.

And now the man who shares the same name as his grandfather is literally helping to pave the way for a rail trail that, when completed, will stretch for some 52 miles in Maine between Portland and Fryeburg.

Hannes Schneider, the father of two teenage boys, is the project manager overseeing the construction of the next stretch of the Mountain Division Trail in the western Maine town of Fryeburg, just over the border from New Hampshire and about 10 miles or so from the same slopes his grandfather arrived at by train from New York in 1939 under an archway of ski poles created by local school children.

"This is fun for me," Schneider said during a recent afternoon interview in Fryeburg before trading in the project's blueprints for a lacrosse stick. (He coaches that sport.) "For me, I can take my profession and put some of my personal pleasures into it."

Schneider is forever linked to skiing, a pursuit and lifestyle he absolutely loves. He and his sons, Hannes and Markus, can be found cruising the corduroy at Cranmore. But skiing goes beyond that. He's taken the boys to the glades of northern Vermont's Jay Peak and the glorious terrain in the birthplace of his grandfather Hannes Schneider and father, Herbert Schneider, in St. Anton where the family also has an impressive imprint.

But Schneider, 44, is also a passionate mountain biker. He has twice competed in the 24 Hours of Great Glen at the base of Mount Washington. He enjoys pedaling trails in the White Mountain National Forest with his sons as well as the singletrack at Vermont's Kingdom Trails. Living in Denmark, Maine, he also frequents Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal with its menu of wide, flat, steep and technical trails.

Schneider, a Holderness School and University of New Hampshire graduate, is a project manager and estimator for R.J. Grondin and Sons, a Gorham, Maine, third generation family-owned construction business.

The company won the bid to build a 2.5-mile portion of the multi-use trail. So far about seven miles have been completed in various towns along the way. Last October, a 1.5-mile section opened in Fryeburg.

The non-profit Maine Mountain Division Trail Alliance works with the state to raise money for the project that, once completed, would pierce through nine towns.

The trail follows a rail line abandoned in 1994. Originally it was the Portland and Ogdensburg Railway designed to connect Portland with the St. Lawrence Seaway and Montreal.

Of late, Maine has been near the top of the list of bike-friendly states ranked by the League of American Bicyclists. The Bicycle Maine Coalition is a sturdy advocate, and the state has some 600 miles of off-road trails, including the pleasant carriage roads of Acadia National Park.

Maine Department of Transportation lists ongoing bicycle projects in the state, including the Eastern Trail, a multi-use off-road trail being constructed as part of the long-distance East Coast Greenway, the 85-mile long Down East Sunrise Trail between Brewer and Calais and a way to extend the heavily used Kennebec River Rail Trail in the state's capital of Augusta.

"There is a lot of opportunity in Maine in alternative green transportation," Schneider said.

Does he see a link between creating a piece of outdoor recreation in Maine with his family's skiing history?

"I don't think about it that way," he said. "I enjoy those recreational outdoor activities very much. I'm into them on my own."

Schneider estimates the project to lay down the 10-foot wide asphalt path will begin in mid-May and wrap up mid-September. He figures to be on site once a week or so. Plans call for a new small parking area for about 10 cars for access near Fryeburg's tiny Eastern Slopes Regional Airport.

"I think the trail is a good way to provide access to a lot more of the adventurous type of riding in the area," he said. "There's a lot of stuff that's a lot of fun."

(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)

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