Guess how many people used the WOW Trail last year? 41,000! Are you one of them? Whether you are a frequent user or have never been on the WOW Trail before, chances are you may be interested in learning more about it. To follow, please find a few frequently asked questions about the Trail.
What is a rail trail? A rail trail is a multi-use, recreational path that runs parallel to an active railroad line or, a path created on a former railroad corridor where trains no longer travel. In the WOW Trail's case, it is alongside an active railroad line operated by the Hobo & Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad. The trail is located in the railroad right of way owned by the State of New Hampshire and managed by the N.H. Department of Transportation.
Where is the WOW Trail? The WOW Trail is a paved, rail trail in the City of Laconia. Presently 1.3 miles long; the trail spans from Elm Street in Lakeport to North Main Street near Downtown Laconia. Design and fundraising is currently underway to extend the trail another 1.1 miles from North Main Street to the Belmont town line. After this second section of trail is completed, we will work to expand the trail in the other direction, from Elm Street in Lakeport to Weirs Beach, and then beyond to Meredith — connecting Meredith, Weirs Beach and Lakeport with Downtown Laconia via a convenient passageway.
Is it safe? Yes. Our current section of Trail has proven to be a safe, alternative route for runners, bikers and walkers between the Downtown area and Lakeport. Even more, the trail is a fun, flat place for families with little ones to practice their bike riding or take a walk. If you'd like to take a walk or run on the WOW Trail, but don't want to go alone, please consider joining us for one of our new walking and running groups. All ages and abilities are welcome. We meet on Wednesdays at 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. at the Lakeport entrance to the Trail behind the Lake Opechee Inn & Spa and at Noon and 5:30 p.m. at the North Main Street entrance to the trail just across from the Laconia Clinic.
I've never heard of a rail trail? Is the WOW Trail the first one? No. For lack of a better term, we are sort of late to the party. Nationwide, there are over 20,000 miles of rail trails, including New Hampshire's own Northern Rail Trail which spans 52 miles from Lebanon all the way to Franklin.
In addition, Franklin and Tilton-Northfield are home to the Winnipesaukee River Trail and the Town of Belmont is poised to build a rail trail beginning at the Belmont-Laconia Town line soon.
What is the long-term plan for the trail? The WOW Trail's mission is to promote, design, build and maintain a nine mile recreational path through the City of Laconia as a part of the regional trail network that will connect Meredith to Franklin. In other words, a completed WOW Trail will be the Laconia section of this regional trail effort.
Why build rail trails? Quite simply, rail trails are a good investment. Nationwide, rail trails are proven to provide safe and accessible recreation opportunities, promote active lifestyles for all ages, and stimulate local economies by increasing tourism and promoting access to local business. In fact, according to a recent Belknap Economic Development Council study, a completed WOW Trail will bring an estimated 152,000 users annually, with 38,000 coming from outside of the Lakes Region — generating a minimum of $1.8 million in new visitor spending every year. That's a good return on investment, don't you think?
Why now? A completed WOW Trail will be a game-changer for this community. Not only will it enhance the quality of life for residents, but it will attract new visitors to the area and help current and future businesses attract and retain a quality workforce by making the city a more desirable place to live, work and play. We can look at case studies of communities around the country who have seen transformative change by implementing comprehensive, regional trail systems. But, ultimately, it's up to our community to say yes to the idea around here, advocate for a more walkable City and, most importantly, help usher the project along by investing in its construction.
Walking, running and biking are recreational uses popular with and available to all ages, skills and socioeconomic levels. These activities encourage and reinforce healthy lifestyles for all people. Why wait to usher this sort of change into our community?
How will the Trail be paid for? The WOW Trail is fortunate to have a committed group of volunteers dedicated to raising funds for the continued expansion of the trail. We conduct two main fundraising events annually: the WOW Sweepstakes Ball and WOW Fest. In addition, we actively apply for grant funding and, for the first time this fall, we will introduce an end of year fundraising appeal to the community.
When will the next section of the Trail be built? If design and fundraising go as planned, another 1.1 miles of trail will be built (from North Main Street in Laconia to the Belmont Town line) by the Fall of 2014.
How can I help? Please share your enthusiasm for the trail with local and state representatives. Volunteer your time. Make a donation. Use the trail. Participate in an upcoming fundraising event. WOW Fest 2013 will be held on September 14th at Laconia Athletic and Swim Club. It's a fun-filled event for the whole family featuring two bicycle challenges, 5K and 10K road races, fun walk, BBQ lunch, live music and kids activities. For more information, please visit www.wowtrail.org.
How can I learn more? The WOW Trail's Annual Meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 14th at 4:30 p.m. at Pitman's Freight Room in Laconia. We are working hard to expand the Trail for you, our friends in the community who have the opportunity to use the Trail every day, and the countless visitors who will one day visit the Lakes Region for a ride, walk, run, or snowshoe on our scenic rail trail. Please join us on August 14th as we review the past year's accomplishments and look ahead at our goals for the coming year. Hope to see you there!