Peter Merrill takes on the task of keeping the wildlife housed on the WOW Trail
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Peter Merrill, a resident of Lakeport, has been a daily WOW Trail walker for about three years. He started for the exercise and the fresh air and scenery, and noticed that the 1.2-mile walking path offered a great chance for him to think. Then, one day, he noticed a birdhouse, that had once been on a shoulder-high post set back from the trail, was instead reduced to a pile of broken wood and laying on the ground.
"I thought, 'Oh, damn vandals.' It bothered me every time I saw it." Then, he thought, "Someone should do something about it." One day, it struck him: that somebody was him. So, Merrill, a retired maintenance mechanic, took the broken pieces of wood home so that he could reconstruct it, using new wood if necessary, and painting it using leftover trim paint that approximated the original shade.
Over the next couple of years, he noticed two more incidents of damaged birdhouses, and each time he made the repairs to return the birdhouses to good-as-new condition. He also bought a picker from the dollar store and started walking with a trash bag, collecting litter along the way. Then, during the first weekend of September, he was distraught to find five of the birdhouses ripped off of their posts and smashed.
Merrill didn't know where the birdhouses came from – they have people's names painted on them, but he doesn't know who they are or when the houses were placed – and he doesn't even know who was behind the creation of the WOW Trail. But, he took the most recent destruction as an affront to the trail that he enjoys daily.
Though there may be bad actors, Merrill vowed to use his skills to recreate all that they destroy.
"All I wanted to do was to show the vandals they couldn't win – that somebody cares enough to put (the birdhouses) back."
Gretchen Gandini, executive director of the WOW Trail, said that the birdhouses were installed a few years ago, and were built by people who attended a family work day held at a local hardware store. She didn't know who had been repairing the birdhouses but appreciated Merrill's efforts nonetheless.
"That's a neat thing about the WOW Trail, we have volunteers that step up to the plate. Sometimes we know about it, sometimes we don't. They just do it because they love the trail," Gandini said.
The existing WOW Trail runs from the intersection of Elm Street and Union Ave to the Laconia Public Library. With Phase II currently under construction, which will run to the Belmont town line and will connect with a trail system already under construction in that town, Gandini said she is encouraged when residents take it upon themselves to lend their efforts to the trail's betterment.
"Sometimes bad things happen," she said. "It's fun when community members come forward to make a positive out of a negative."
Merrill sees his effort as a small contribution to an amenity that he sees many people enjoying each day.
"It's a wonderful thing that's being done for the city, doing my own little part gives me a great deal of satisfaction."
He added, "The more people we have that do something, the further we'll be ahead of the game."
Peter Merrill of Laconia repairs a birdhouse along the WOW Trail. He has taken it upon himself to repair and reconstruct the birdhouses as a way to combat vandalism along an amenity that he enjoys. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)