A park near you

By Adam Drapcho

The Lakes Region saw temperatures in the 70s on Friday, after a warm and sunny day on Thursday. Looking for a way to enjoy these early tastes of springtime weather? The Lakes Region is dotted with public parks, including some unfamiliar to people who live nearby or drive past them every day.

Asked to name a public park in the Lakes Region, many people would reference Ellacoya State Park — and for good reason. Ellacoya, easily accessed from Route 11 as it passes through Gilford, is the only state park on Lake Winnipesaukee, and boasts a long, sandy beach with views across the lake and of the mountains to the north.

Ellacoya is one of only two state parks with an RV campground. It also has bathroom facilities and a pavilion available for reservation. Ellacoya sees about 33,000 visitors each year, most of whom will pay $5 per person during its operating season, which starts on May 28. However, just because the park is not officially open, doesn't mean it's off-limits. There's no staffing or amenities, but visitors are able to park on the side of the road and walk into the park to enjoy the beach, picnic areas and open spaces.

Not nearly as well-known as Ellacoya, but just one town away, is Ahern State Park, accessed in Laconia off of Parade Road. This 128-acre parcel was once part of the Laconia State School property, and became a state park in 1994.

Ahern, despite its low profile, has two prime features. The first is a network of trails that ranges from broad and flat, well-suited to walking or jogging in the warm weather, or snowshoeing or skiing in the winter. Criss-crossing the land encircled by the broad trails are single-track paths to challenge mountain bikers.

The system of trails makes Ahern a favorite for local dog owners to take their pet for a walk. Pets are permitted on the trails but not on the beach, which is Ahern's best-kept secret.

Ahern State Park abuts Lake Winnisquam, and boasts 3,500 feet of shoreline on the water body's northeastern shore. Much of the trail system explores the shoreline, including two rocky outlooks and a sandy beach, a quieter alternative than the more populated Ellacoya or Weirs Beach.

Other state parks in the Lakes Region include Wentworth State Park, on Lake Wentworth in Wolfeboro, Endicott Rock at Weirs Beach, Wellington State Park on Newfound Lake in Bristol, White Lake State Park in Tamworth, and Livermore Falls Recreation Area in Holderness. For more about these and other state parks, visit www.nhstateparks.org.

There are many more public areas to explore beyond the state parks, though, such as Waukewan Highlands Community Park, a town-managed and conserved parcel located in Meredith, off Route 106.

Waukewan Highlands is the kind of park that hundreds of people drive past everyday without realizing what they're passing by. The park features four trails, totaling 3.1 miles, and each trail leads either to or from Hart's Pond.

The pond at the center of the park is a reservoir that, until 31 years ago, served as a public water supply. Still standing in the pond is a 120 year-old pump house. On the bank of the reservoir is a picnic table, as well as a notebook, inviting visitors to leave a message.

A variety of ow-impact uses are permitted in Waukewan Highlands, such as hiking and mountain biking. A recent visit proved that the park is, like Ahern, a favorite for dogs and their owners, as the trails are wide and well-marked as they pass through a varied topography and a mixture of tree stands. Those interested to learn more should pick up a pamphlet from the green mailbox at the trailhead; numbered entries contain insights into the park that correspond with certain points along the trails.

These represent just a sampling of local parks. Across the region, drivers pass small gravel parking lots with kiosks containing trail information, perhaps its time to see where those trails lead.

Unified basketball brings out best in Belmont

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Sam Wright makes a shot to the basket during Belmont High School's the unified basketball game held on Thursday morning. The game honored all the students who participate in the sport, included those with special needs. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)


BELMONT — The gymnasium was packed with students, teachers and parents, the enthusiastic sports cheers came from the stands, and the unified basketball team took to the floor after a brief awards ceremony led by Principal Dan Clary.

Broken into white and red, the two teams battled throughout two 10-minute halves only to see the white team trounce the red team by a score of 30 to 18.

But in this case the score didn't matter at all. The only thing that mattered at Belmont High School yesterday was school spirit and student body support for the student athletes who played their hearts out for their fellow classmates.

"I love it and the kids enjoy it," said unified basketball player and student teacher aide Mercedes Scott, who said she plays all unified sports and has a goal of becoming a special education professional after graduation.

Grouped together in the stands were six residents of Great Brook Village, friends and relatives of Sam Wright one of the student athletes on the team. Henry Arlinghaus, whose grandson Henry plays unified basketball, said they go to every game and think the entire unified sports concept is wonderful.

This special group of senior citizens called the play-by-play among themselves, described the skills of each athlete, talked about the intricacies of unified basketball, noting there are no penalties for traveling or double dribbling and how the students who are on the girls and boys basketball teams assist the special-needs players.

But it's real basketball. Cheers went up for the students who grabbed their own rebounds, for the students who took the ball up the court, for the struggles for loose balls and for Henry, who has a devastating on-the-run layup shot.

For Superintendent Maria Dreyer, whose teaching career began in special education, seeing the entire student body cheering when one of the unified players sinks a basket and does a dance for joy or a high-fives with another teammate brings tears to her eyes.

"You know, when you can take an unfortunate incident and turn it into something positive, that's wonderful," Dreyer said.

The "unfortunate incident" happened when some of the unified sports team members were not given certificates during the unified sport pizza party. Realizing the omission, at least one student was given a certificate with another person's name crossed out and his written in with a felt-tipped marker.

His sister, senior Kylie Donovan, took to Facebook to chastise the administration for the omission and the unintended insult. Administrators responded by personally apologizing to all of the parents and students involved and holding a schoolwide assembly so everyone could watch and cheer on their unified team.

Donovan said yesterday that she was happy with the way everything turned out for her brother, the unified team, and the school at large.

"I never meant to bash my school but just assumed that they didn't get it," she said, the "they" meaning the school administration. She added that she has since posted an additional Facebook message to say she didn't mean to bash but wanted everyone to understand special-needs students. Donovan said that for her brother Keegan, playing unified sports makes him feel like "he is the man" and that he belongs to the whole student body.

"(Unified sports) is a varsity team like every other varsity team," she said.

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Amanda Berg looks to the basket for her shot during Belmont High School's unified basketball game on Thursday morning. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Main Street on a mission - New signs meant to draw foot traffic to Meredith businesses


MEREDITH— Bob Manley of the Hermit Woods Winery at 72 Main St. recalled a gentleman who dropped in to tip a glass or two, telling him "I've been coming to Meredith for 30 years and I never knew there was a Main Street."

Soon after opening two years ago, Manley said that "I became really concerned and made it my mission to take Main Street very seriously." He said that with some 3,000 feet of frontage lined with parks, shops, inns and restaurants, the waterfront is a magnet for visitors and tourists, overshadowing the rest of the town.

"Main Street has suffered," he said.

Manley joined the Greater Meredith Program with the aim of drawing foot traffic to Main Street. He said that some Main Street businesses had placed sandwich boards along NH Route 3, but last year the New Hampshire Department of Transportation forbade them from the state right-of-way. Instead, Manley championed initiatives to place signs on the waterfront and around the town directing visitors to the businesses on Main Street and encouraging them to "Do the Loop" by walking through the village.

Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen approved the proposal. Two signs, each five-and-a-half feet by five feet, and standing seven-and-a-half feet high, will be erected, one at the crosswalk on NH Route 3 between Lake Street and Dover Street and the other at the end of the boardwalk by the Town Docks Restaurant. The signs will carry a graphic depiction of the village, highlighting streets, businesses, parks, restrooms, parking and historical sights. Manley said he hopes a third similar but smaller sign will be placed at the corner of Lake Street and Main Street, where tour buses drop off passengers.

The program will be funded by the Greater Meredith Program, along with the proceeds from fees businesses will pay to be named on the sign. Each sign will include a rack with space for brochures mimicking the signs, as well as featuring the Sculpture Walk and Historical Society Walking Tour.

When the selectboard considered the proposal, resident Karen Sticht expressed misgivings about it. In particular, she said that she believed that it was inappropriate to advertise private businesses on public property. She also feared that the signs would encroach on views of the lake.

Town Manager Phil Warren said that the practice of naming private businesses on town property is not without precedent, referring specifically to a sign posted by the Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce. Nor, he continued, are there planning or zoning regulations that would either prohibit the signs or require the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Adjustment to approve it.

"This proposal was squarely within the authority of the Board of Selectmen to approve or disapprove," he said.

Manley stressed the importance of making both residents and visitors aware of what Main Street has to offer, especially during the winter months when visitors are scarce. At the same time, he said that more businesses, particularly those catering to year round residents, are needed to ensure a steady flow of foot traffic in all seasons.

"Both these things are happening now," he said.

Describing the winery as a "destination business," or one that patrons seek out rather than stumble upon, he estimated it draws between 7,000 and 8,000 customers a year.

"That's a start," he said.

Meanwhile, Kelly Chapman and Seth Joslin, dong business as Main Street Market, are opening a wellness center above the Hakuna Cafe and Refuge Hair Salon at 48 Main St. The Meredith Whole Living Center will offer skin care and reiki and perhaps acupuncture and chiropractic services on the second floor of the building. Sadhana Yoga Studio will move from the second to the third floor of the building.

Manley said that the businesses at 48 Main St. will also serve as destinations, explaining that three or four more destination businesses will significantly increase the traffic to the smaller walk-in shops.

Further down the street, Dan Taylor is renovating the building at 23 Main St., which he said was rebuilt after a fire in 1850.

"This is a beautiful historic street," he said, "and I'm restoring it to its original condition."

There will three commercial units on the ground floor, two fronting on Main Street and the third with an entrance on the east side of the building, and four two-bedroom apartments of between 800 and 1,000 square feet on the upper floors. Taylor said that the apartments will be equipped with washers and dryers and feature modern kitchens with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. All the units will have central heating and air conditioning. Taylor said that floor plans are posted on the website 23mainstreet.com and he expects both the commercial and residential units will be ready for occupancy in June.

"This is the time," Manley said, adding that he was excited by the prospect of more investment and businesses, which will ensure the signs of something to point to on Main Street.

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This building at 23 Main St. was rebuilt after a fire in 1850 and is being renovated to house three commercial units and four two-bedroom apartments. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)

04-01 Meredith sign proposals

The Meredith selectmen recently approved the erection of signs on the waterfront directing visitors and tourists to businesses on Main Street. The signs were proposed by the Greater Meredith Program, which will pay for them. The above images were Photoshopped to illustrate how the signs would appear in relation to the lake and people. (Illustrations courtesy of the Greater Meredith Program)