Ogunquit's Miracle Mile
When it comes to walking, Americans aren't winning any awards. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of people walking to work declined by 25 percent between 1990 and 2000, despite evidence that regular walking can halve your chances of an early demise.
What might change these couch potatoes' habits is a visit to Ogunquit. Home to the Marginal Way, the breathtaking shoreside footpath linking Perkins Cove with the village, it also possesses one of the most walkable boulevards in Maine. As if the Route 1 gridlock wasn't enough to convince drivers to surrender their gas-guzzlers, the one-mile stretch of Shore Road between the picture-perfect (and largely man-made) Perkins Cove and Ogunquit's tony downtown has a way of luring even the most lethargic motorists onto their feet. Colorful daylilies, black-eyed Susans, and cosmos contrast beautifully with the black pavement (the asphalt sidewalks were recently refurbished), while period streetlights (another addition during the past few years) complement the nineteenth-century Capes, grand summer resorts such as the Sparhawk and the Colonial, and street signs that look like they were torn from a history book. Beating the pavement never seemed so pleasurable.
"We used to bill ourselves as Maine's most walkable town or some such thing, and that really is one of our charms," explains Leanne Cusimano, who operates the ultra-popular Amore Breakfast eatery, situated near Shore Road's midpoint. She says the street scene complements the natural beauty of the Marginal Way. "People do the loop, and Shore Road completes the picture. Village-ocean-village-ocean, round and round it goes." From unmistakable landmarks such as the granite Ogunquit Free Memorial Library and the Victorian Nellie Littlefield House to more subtle sites such as the Gothic-style Methodist Church-turned-gift shop and the circa-1800 Captain Sawyer House that now serves as a T-shirt shop, Shore Road is a boulevard whose surprises can only be enjoyed on foot. "You're never walking away from anything - you're always looking ahead and walking toward something," says frequent walker Bobbi Treen, who first arrived in Ogunquit in 1947. "There have been changes in the past fifty years, but the road has always kept its character."
Indeed, the way that character has evolved since the Post Road first split off from the Portsmouth Road (now Route 1) is precisely what keeps Shore Road interesting even today. Signs of Ogunquit's working past, present long before artists arrived during the 1890s and tourists transformed the York County community shortly thereafter, can still be found by those strolling along Shore Road. Wharf Lane, for instance, is named for the piers where schooners once unloaded cargo; the only evidence of them remaining is the dolphin post, still visible at low tide at the mouth of the Ogunquit River, where the ships moored while waiting for the tide. The foreboding stone wall in front of the Sparhawk Resort, topped with jagged stones originally inlaid to prevent nineteenth-century whippersnappers from dawdling, makes most walkers stop and wonder. Even the jarring juxtaposition of the circa-1785 Johnson Littlefield House and the circa-1978 Anchorage by the Sea adds an interesting dimension to Shore Road.
For people like Leanne Cusimano, Shore Road represents more than just a route between Perkins Cove and the village. Cusimano says she and her customers respond to the vibe that this stretch of pavement exudes. "It's Americana," she explains. "It's the white picket fences, it's those iron street signs. I don't want to quote from the state slogan, but it just feels like the way things should be." A pleasant summer evening finds the sidewalks of Shore Road packed with walkers, people such as Marilyn Eimon, who walks with up to twenty others from her home at the mouth of Perkins Cove to the village every day, rain or shine. Eimon says the road plays both a practical and an emotional role in her life. "For me, it's a way home," she says.