Allan Beetle leads the group as they walk the extension portion of the WOW Trail from Lakeport along Paugus Bay on Saturday morning. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Supporters of a proposal to extend the WOW Trail from Lakeport to The Weirs in a railroad right-of-way walk along the most controversial section of the planned path Saturday near South Down Shores, where residents are in opposition. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A proposal to extend the WOW trail from Lakeport to The Weirs along a railroad right-of-way faces obstacles plainly visible in a hike along the train tracks skirting Paugus Bay, including neighbors who don't much like the idea.
Backers of the 5-mile extension plan to file their proposal with the city Planning Board next month.
Trail proponent Allan Beetle led a group of 20 people on a walk along the railroad tracks Saturday to discuss the creation of what he said would be one of the top trails of its type in New Hampshire.
There are tourist opportunities like dining and shopping on either end of the trail, providing opportunities for residents and visitors who like to have a destination at the end of a hike or bicycle ride.
“I don't think there are many trails that would compare to this,” Beetle said, glancing up at the bay.
Residents who live along the seldom-used tracks also enjoy the view and many are not enthralled by changes.
“Why not have one or the other, a train and no walking trail, or a trail and no train?” asked Bill Ratcliffe, whose home on Paradise Drive has an unobstructed view of the water and a yard that slopes down to the railroad tracks on the bay shore.
He was concerned that the open beauty of the area would be marred by a fence that would be necessary to keep people off the tracks, which are used in the summer by three slow-moving tourist trains a day.
“Would you like to live here and look at a chain link fence with trash glued to it?” he asked. “Also, pavement and a lake don't go together. A paved path would look like there is a runway going through here.”
Beetle said the path's surface in the area could be crushed stone and the fence could be a rustic split rail. The experience along other parts of the trail indicates that there wouldn't be problems with trash or criminal activity. Another potential concern for some residents is a loss of privacy.
Ratcliffe also asked Beetle if anybody had considered building a trail in a more populated area along Weirs Boulevard on the other side of the bay. Beetle said that would be a worthy project, but would have difficulties and extra expense, since it lacks a dedicated railroad right-of-way.
North of Ratcliffe's home along the tracks are 600 homes in the private, gated communities of South Down Shores and Long Bay. A sign warns the public, “PRIVATE BEACH, Beach Club Members Only.”
Bruce Miller, president of the South Down homeowners association, said the group is prepared to fight the proposal in court if a way isn't found to detour the trail around the upscale housing development.
“We are not opposed to the WOW trail,” he said. “But the current plan has it running through what is essentially our back yard.”
This proposed trail extension is known as phase three. Phase one of the WOW trail took it from Elm Street in the Lakeport area of Laconia south to the Laconia Public Library. Phase two took it farther south to Belmont. A potential fourth phase could take it from The Weirs to Meredith. The trail is 10 feet wide and paved.
In a newsletter to Long Bay residents, homeowners association president Dick Bordwell noted that homeowners had previously agreed to support a fund to challenge any extension near their community.
“Phase Three, if completed as planned, will have a dramatic impact on the South Down and Long Bay gated communities, as well as many others along the Paugus Bay and Winnipesaukee waterfront areas,” he said in the newsletter. “It is now time to start organizing our efforts, as the WOW Trail enjoys political support as well as city and state funding.”
In addition to opposition from some of the neighbors, another challenge to be overcome by trail proponents would be finding ways to obtain landowner permission to build trail outside the railroad right-of-way in areas where the track corridor is narrow.
Funding could be another obstacle. Beetle estimates it could cost $4 million to $5 million to build the trail, including the construction of boardwalk in some areas of water.
A majority of those costs could be paid for with grants from the federal government, Beetle said.
A 2012 economic impact analysis by the Belknap County Economic Development Council for a completed WOW Trail estimates net new visitor spending at $1.78 million annually. The analysis also stated that properties close to trails tend to see a positive impact on property values.
Phases 1 and 2 of the WOW Trail are complete. Phase 3, in orange, is proposed to go from Lakeport to The Weirs. (Courtesy graphic)
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 2354