Snowmobilers and year-round residents battle over Weirs bridge snow clearing
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A dispute over whether to plow sidewalks in The Weirs over the winter points up a misconception about the area, said Councilor Ava Doyle.
“Everybody had this impression over the years that nobody lives here in the winter,” Doyle said. “But that’s not true. There are several condominium developments here, owner-occupied housing and a lot of people who live in The Weirs year-round.”
Some of those people approached her last year asking whether sidewalks could be cleared so pedestrians could use them instead of having to walk in the street.
The Public Works Department places a priority on plowing sidewalks leading to schools, but it changed longstanding practice last winter and did some sidewalk plowing in The Weirs.
Therein lies the rub.
Snowmobilers travel along those snow-covered sidewalks to get to an established trail along the railroad tracks in the area. They would like the snow to be left in place.
Doyle understands their concerns but feels pedestrians also have a case. She was glad to see some sidewalks cleared last winter.
“It was a welcome change,” she said. “This has been a complaint the last 10 or 15 years. We live out here. People want to walk and walk their dogs and have access. A lot of people like to walk all year. I see them. They start at The Weirs, they go up Scenic Road to Watson Road and then south on Route 3.”
She also said people like to walk across a bridge along Route 3 (Endicott Street North) to get to a post office.
The sidewalk on that bridge has become a point of concern for snowmobilers.
A longstanding trail along a utility easement near Lily Pond is used by snowmobile riders who want to connect to another trail along railroad tracks at The Weirs, but to make that connection they first have to go on sidewalks, including the one on the bridge.
Tyson McKenna, president of the Belknap Snowmobilers Club, would like to see a return to the longstanding practice of not clearing snow from sidewalks in the area and questions the decision by Public Works Director Wes Anderson to change the status quo.
“The bridge provides access for everybody on the southern side of it to get to the railroad tracks, which can get you anywhere in the state,” he said. “The railroad track trail gets quite a bit of use, especially in years when the ice on the bay is deemed not safe to run on. We always had permission from the previous Public Works director to ride in that area. There’s never been any reason to plow. The current Public Works director is choosing not to honor this grandfathered situation.”
For his part, Anderson said state law is clear. Snowmobiles are not to travel on sidewalks or along roads unless the city has posted signs authorizing this use. There are no such signs in The Weirs.
He has promised to work with the snowmobile community to brainstorm possible alternative routes or other solutions.
The dispute came up at the last City Council meeting, and will be considered again.
Councilor Doyle said this is a classic case where it will be difficult to balance competing concerns.
“I’m not sure what the solution is, but I suspect no matter what we do, somebody is going to be unhappy,” she said.
City Planning Director Dean Trefethen said new housing developments in the area are marketed both to people who plan to be full-time residents as well as to those who want a second home, including Weirs Beach Village, Akwa Vista, Meredith Bay and Christmas Island. An 86-unit development called The Gardens at Winnipesaukee will market to both categories and that’s the plan for the 291-unit Langley Cove project as well.
He also said at least four restaurants stayed open all last winter in The Weirs, which has been transitioning for many years from a place catering to short-term visitors to one serving more of a residential population.