I was 2 years old, Jimmy Carter was the President of the United States, and South Down Shores did not even exist when the City of Laconia first proposed building a lakeside bike trail within the State of New Hampshire-owned railroad right of way.
According to the long ago published Lakes Region, N.H. Bikeway System Report, "the railroad right of way was well suited for the trail for a variety of reasons: its close proximity to the homes of year round and seasonal residents; the level grade and separation from automobile traffic made it attractive to very young and older riders; and the route combined scenic beauty with access to the region's busiest commercial areas, providing opportunity for those who might use their bicycles for commuting."
Although the proposal received a great deal of community support and enthusiasm, plans were stalled in Laconia because of the high cost associated with fencing requirements by the state. Meanwhile, communities around the country developed rail trails and began enjoying significant health, economic and recreation benefits.
Fast forward to present day Laconia and the concept of a recreation trail in the state-owned right of way again enjoys a great deal of community support and enthusiasm for many of the same reasons. As well, conversations about fencing requirements remain in the news.
Let's talk about this.
Contrary to recent reports, split-rail fencing or some amenable alternative has, indeed, been approved by the Department of Transportation Bureau of Rail and Transit along the waterfront properties for Phase 2 of the WOW Trail. We are grateful for this unprecedented exception by the State of N.H. and look forward to continued conversations in this regard.
Rails-with-trails have become a common part of the recreation landscape in the United States in recent years, representing nearly 10 percent of all rail-trails in the country. There are currently 161 rails-with-trails in 41 states, a 260 percent increase since 2000. There is no federal standard regarding fencing. Some states require chain link fencing, others require vegetation or grade separation, while others require no separation at all.
According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy's 2013 Rails-With-Trails report, out of thousands of fatalities on railroad corridors in the United States in recent decades, only one involved a trail user on a rail-with-trail. This suggests that a well-designed pathway provides a safe travel alternative and reduces incentive to trespass or use the tracks as a shortcut.
Even more, there's no denying that Phase 1 of the WOW Trail has fast become a unifying landmark and point of pride for the City of Laconia. A growing number of community leaders recognize that a completed WOW Trail will be a game-changer for this community. Not only will it enhance the quality of life for year round and seasonal 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 for my generation of young families. 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 here, advocate for a more walkable, bikeable city and, most importantly, help usher this project along by investing in its construction.
Let's finish what the City of Laconia first proposed for the Lakes Region in 1980. It's about time we get this project done. I'm ready, are you?
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