I have been reading with concern the recent fairly-consistent characterization of South Down Shores/Long Bay residents as something other than "community-minded." Selfish is a word that I have read, not wanting to share their private piece of the lakefront is another. I have read nasty comments and I have read disregard for what residents have paid for and are taxed for. I cannot help but feel that much of the negativity is caused in part by the fact that the community has an entry gate, located just off Parade Road. The entry gate sticks in the craw of many, and I get that.
I would hope that after venting about the "snobby rich people" who live in South Down/Long Bay, readers would consider just what many of these loyal residents give to our city. But first, some statistics: there are approximately 600 residences in these two communities, and they provide a sizable chunk of the city's revenues through their property taxes every year. Approximately 40 percent are inhabited by full-time residents of Laconia, and a significant number of them are dedicated to this city, providing many hundreds, if not thousands of hours in community service volunteer work. They are LRGH volunteers, CNHVNAH volunteers, Rotary and Kiwanis members, and a sizable percentage of these residents donate their money and time to one of the crown-jewels of our community, Got Lunch! Laconia, helping to ensure that our kids do not go to bed hungry at night during the summer. Other volunteers who reside in the community include adaptive ski instructors, American Cancer Society drivers, Children's Auction volunteers, St. Vincent de Paul food bank and thrift store volunteers, and CERT members, to say nothing of the many business owners, educators, coaches and other professionals.
Having attempted to give a clearer picture of who resides in the South Down and Long Bay communities, I want to add that many of these residents are retired or semi-retired, are enjoying their twilight years in a beautiful community, and yet are taking the time to give back. Lord knows that people like me have been most fortunate throughout our professional careers. Many of us feel prompted to give back in response to our good fortune. We are happy to live in Laconia and donate our time and talents, as well to give financially.
Like many of you, I choose to live in the Lakes Region for the recreational opportunities that are available in every direction. I also enjoy the lake. During the winter, I can even spot Paugus Bay through the trees about 1/4-mile away. The one or two days a week during the warmer months that I have leisure time, I make it a point to enjoy the lake, and all that it has to offer, usually with friends. My concerns about the WOW Trail going along this waterfront has very little to do with the possible threat of crime or the loss of privacy, but has everything to do with safety.
During the summer, the South Down Boat Club is a very busy, and a potentially dangerous operation. Recent articles referenced the 40 slips and 40 moorings at the Boat Club, but failed to mention the 218 dry-berths upon which residents' boats are stored out of the water when not in use. They are taken from their berths when an owner requests by a 65,000 pound forklift that during busy times runs continuously from about 8 a.m. until as late as 9 p.m on weekends, 6 p.m. on weekdays. This forklift backs away from the loading platform in reverse, is quite loud, has limited visibilty behind it, and traverses what the WOW Trail folks envision as a recreational path. I would guess that 6-8 boats per hour are taken to the lake, or removed from the lake on a busy day. (The record is 115.) How in the world can there be a successful recreational trail right behind this operation? Safely? Impossible to do. How do we protect the users of the trail from this busy operation? Imagine the WOW trail being protected by a (railroad crossing) gate that closes automatically when the forklift is in operation and users of the trail becoming backed up waiting to cross, again and again, all day long. How long will users be willing to do this when all they really wanted to do was bike or jog/walk along the shorefront?
There is an easy answer, but one that the WOW Board in the past refused to consider. This trail could be routed from Lakeport up Elm Street, turning left onto Franklin Street and following the Opechee shoreline all the way around to the turn behind Leavitt Park that then returns to Elm Street via Bell St. This route eliminates the substantial climb that exists if the route was strictly on Elm Street. From there, Elm Street is less than a mile from Parade Road, and once on Parade Road, it is less than a mile to Severance Road. A right turn onto Severance Road will take a recreational user to a portion of the Belknap Snowmobile trail system that traverses a portion of Paugus State Forest, and follows a beautiful wooded trail to the abandoned Hilliard Road that connects Petal Pusher's nursery to Pickerel Cove. This road then runs all the way to Route 3 in the Weirs, just across from the Cumberland Farms convenience complex.
This recommended route would resemble a portion of the Winnisquam Scenic trail that the town of Belmont has constructed behind the Belknap Mall, a gorgeous trail system, I might add. This route would also spare both sides of the argument from spending a lot of money, money which could be better spent on construction of the trail system that we would all like to have.
You see, to me it is much more about safety than anything. I will admit also to a desire on my part to not ruin a wonderful amenity that I enjoy by living in South Down. I am not trying to keep what I have from anybody, but I am trying to preserve a way of life that I enjoy by living here in Laconia. To echo a recent letter to the editor in The Daily Sun, we do not need to demonize each other due to our different views. We should attempt to respect each other's perspectives, and work together to find a good alternative. I am sure that there is more than just one. Many of the residents of South Down and Long Bay are very community-minded and their giving back is purely a win-win for Laconia.
(John Walker is a 14-year resident of Laconia. Since his retirement he has volunteered for 10 years with Central NH VNA and Hospice, 10 years as a volunteer at the Children's Auction, three years at St. Vincent de Paul, He is a 7-year member of the Kiwanis Club of Laconia, a 10-year member of the Congregational Church of Laconia, is a Road to Recovery driver for the American Cancer Society, and started the Got Lunch! Laconia program, a program emulated throughout the state. He currently serves as the program's volunteer coordinator. He and his wife Martha, also a very active community volunteer, reside in South Down Shores.)