"The WOW Trail expansion will test our endurance."
It's been two years since I wrote that sentence in a community commentary printed in this very newspaper. Bright eyed and optimistic, I compared this project to running the Boston Marathon. Overly confident, I had no doubt in my mind that Phase 2 would be designed and approved within the year.
Oh how humbled I've been.
We started off strong. We introduced an annual fundraising appeal which was met with great support and over $20,000 in donations. We were awarded $125,000 in state business tax credits by the N.H. CDFA. And, the Laconia City Council voted to invest $400,000 of its Downtown Tax Increment Financing money into Phase 2 of the project. We were on pace to build in 2015 for sure.
But then reality set it. To borrow a marathon term, we'd hit the wall and we've been shuffling up Heart Break Hill ever since.
We'd been concentrating so much on the fundraising efforts, we failed to recognize the very real challenges that would need to be overcome. First, an unexpected objection from an abutter has necessitated further paperwork and legal advice. Second, the negotiation of an easement from a generous trail neighbor has taken longer than anticipated. Third, we have been trying to figure out how to move or build the trail around two structures located in the State of N.H.-owned railroad corridor without compromising their historic integrity.
Then, just as I was starting to lose hope that we'd make it to the finish line, we received the following news from the family of the late Lionel Labonte, founder of Stratham Tire, Inc.:
"Our family has agreed to donate the 2,850-square-feet of land needed by the WOW Trail committee to facilitate the continuation and development of the WOW Trail. The WOW Trail will be a treasure for the City of Laconia. It will help build community, provide a healthy opportunity for people to gather and exercise, and will also beautify an area near the tracks that would otherwise remain unkempt. We are proud to be a part of such a community-based effort."
And with that incredible gesture, we've got our second wind. In the coming weeks we will be working with city officials to accept this generous donation of property, and submitting our final design plans to the State of New Hampshire Bureau of Rail for review. We anticipate putting our project to bid at the close of 2015, and look forward to a Spring 2016 build.
The Phase 2 WOW Trail expansion has, indeed, tested our endurance. But there's no doubt in my mind that this effort is important. A completed WOW Trail will become a world class amenity, showcasing New Hampshire's Lakes Region in a unique way, bringing a significant new type of tourism to our beautiful state, and enhancing the quality of life for year-round and seasonal residents.
Thank you for your patience. This is a long-term project that will benefit the region for generations to come. It's not going to be easy. But it will be worth it.
The WOW Trail's Annual Meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 19 at 4:30 p.m. at the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. The public is welcome to attend.
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