LACONIA — With homeowners at the gated communities of South Down Shores and Long Bay determined to keep the WOW Trail from passing along the western shore of Paugus Bay on its way toward the Meredith town line, City Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) has begun exploring an alternative route.
As planned, the third phase of the trail begins at Van Buren Street and runs northward 2.2 miles past Pickerel Cove to Birch Haven Road, following railway along the shorefront through South Down Shores and Long Bay. The South Down Recreation Association has accrued a legal fund from annual assessments of $100 on each of some 500 households and allied with residents of Long Bay. Chester Cilley, president of the South Down Recreation Association, said yesterday that while the association has convened a committee, which will cooperate with anyone seeking an alternative route, it has also repeatedly resolved that "no one. . . but no one . . . will cross South Down."
Bolduc suggests that instead of the planned route, the trail follow Elm Street from Lakeport Square to Parade Road then proceed northward to Hilliard Road at Petal Pushers Farm and across Hilliard Road to The Weirs. Hilliard Road runs northeast from Parade Road to join Endicott Street North (Route 3) near Cumberland Farms, a distance of almost two miles. However, about half of the length of Hilliard Road, from Parade Road to Hillcroft Road has not been maintained for many years.
This alternative route would stretch for approximately six miles — two miles across Elm Street, two miles up Parade Road and two miles across Hilliard Road. It would require adding or widening sidewalks on Elm Street, constructing a pathway along Parade Road and reopening half of Hilliard Road.
Bolduc said that just as segments of the first two phases of the WOW Trail follow sidewalks on Messer Street and Fair Street, the third phase could follow Elm Street.
He acknowledged that along Parade Road, a state highway where the speed of traffic approaches or exceeds 50 miles per hour, it would be necessary to distance the trail from the roadway, but offered bike paths paralleling I-89 in Lebanon and Concord as examples of the compatibility of trails and highways. Reopening Hilliard Road would not only provide a route for the trail but also improve access to The Weirs, especially during Motorcycle Week when congestion may pose challenges for employees going to and from work as well as emergency vehicles.
Luke Powell, assistant director of Public Works, said that he has walked the length of Hilliard Road, which he described as passable with an all-terrain vehicle. He estimated that reconstructing the roadway, together with building a trail, could be a costly project, requiring stream crossings and extensive grading. Moreover, he recalled that the public right-of-way was relatively narrow. Likewise, Powell questioned whether the state-owned right-of-way on Parade Road would be sufficient to accommodate a 10-foot-wide trail at a safe distance from the roadway, which he suggested could be as much as 30 feet.
Alan Beetle, president of the Board of Directors of the WOW Trail, said that he was not aware that this particular alternative route was being considered. "I think it's great to add sidewalks and bike lanes for pedestrians and cyclists," he said, "but they are not the same as a recreational trail." He stressed that the WOW Trail is intended as an attraction that will draw people to the city and region and noted that a sidewalk through a residential neighborhood and path along a state highway were unlikely to attract visitors.
Beetle said that relatively few residences at South Down Shores are very near the trail, while for most the WOW Trail represented an additional amenity for their community. He acknowledged the risk of litigation, remarking "we're prepared for that," but fancied that residents of South Down will "use the funds to do something positive for the community, like the WOW Trail."