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.