The birdhouse man of Lakeport

Peter Merrill takes on the task of keeping the wildlife housed on the WOW Trail


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."

09-23 Birdhouse man - Peter Merrill

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)

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Katy (Wells) North replaces Van Tassel in Sanbornton


SANBORNTON — Katy (Wells) North, a veteran of town government almost from the day she arrived 20 ago, was selected by the Board of Selectmen this week from among five candidates to complete the term of Johnny Van Tassel, who resigned month due to the demands of his employment with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

North is serving her sixth, and fifth consecutive, three-year term on the Budget Committee and has also been an alternate member of the Conservation Commission for 12 years. She was elected a trustee of the trust funds, served as interim town planner and welfare director; and as a volunteer chaired the Old Home Committee, was treasurer of the Sanbornton Historical Society and was treasurer, secretary and president of the Parent-Teachers Organization at Sanbornton Central School. A graduate of Northeastern University, North has spent 38 years in the business world.

In seeking the position, North told the remaining selectmen, "I am known to have an open mind to all sides of the many issues that come up within the town and have worked successfully with both of the current seated selectboard members in several other venues."

North said Thursday that she will resign from the Budget Committee before taking her seat on the Board of Selectmen and will be a candidate for selectman when elections are held at Town Meeting in March.

Dave Nickerson, Bill Tobin, Tim Lang and Tom Salitiello were the other candidates interviewed for the vacant seat on the selectboard.

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cell phone use causes crash on Messer Street


LACONIA — A local woman will be cited for distracted driving (use of a cell phone) after she crashed into a utility pole on Messer Street Wednesday night, causing wires to hang dangerously close to the roadway.

After striking the pole, police said Cierra Gonyea, 19, of 32 Lyford St. #2 careened across the street, went up on the sidewalk and landed about 5 feet from a house on the corner of Irving Street.

"Fortunately, no one was walking on the sidewalk and there were no kids playing in the yard," said Capt. Matt Canfield.

Canfield said that since the beginning of the year, 108 warnings and eight citations have been given to people by city police for violating the state law against the use of electronic hand-held devices since the law went into effect in July of 2015.

He said people have been given plenty of time to adjust to the law and noted there was an 18-month education campaign waged by the state police before it went into effect.

"It only takes a moment of distraction to cause a tragedy," Canfield said, who added police are going to be writing more tickets and giving less warning about the hands-free law in the future.

A portion of Messer Street was closed to traffic for several hours last night.

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