LACONIA — Don’t be surprised if you see police officers pedaling down the WOW Trail this summer on mountain bikes.
Myles Chase of MC Cycles & Sport donated one bike to the police department Wednesday and the children of Pleasant Street School students donated $300 to help defray the city’s costs for a second one.
Police Chief Matt Canfield, who jogs on the public trail a few times a week, says it is a safe place to walk, run and ride and wants to counter any perceptions to the contrary.
“There might be a perception of crime or danger on the WOW Trail, but it’s really nonexistent,” he said. “It’s no more dangerous than walking anywhere else on any of the streets.”
Police will also put portable cameras at key spots on the trail to further enhance security.
Volunteer “ambassadors” also frequent the trails to answer questions or report any problems.
The new Jamis bikes, which cost about $800 each, should provide dependable transportation for officers, who already have a couple of older bicycles at their disposal.
The new bikes have hydraulic disc brakes, 18 gears and a suspension that can be turned on and off.
Officer Sean McCormack will be using one of the bikes on patrols of the trail, as well as the downtown area and occasionally along Lakeside Avenue at The Weirs.
“People see a police cruiser and they are like, ‘Oh, no, the cops are here,’” McCormack said. “But if you roll up on them, so to speak, on a bike, it’s a little easier to talk to people.”
He said the bikes should help in the department’s community policing mission, which aims to strengthen ties between officers and the residents and businesses they serve.
McCormack also said that when he is on a bike, he is closer to the street and in a better position to observe the surroundings or go places inaccessible to a police cruiser.
On the other hand, it’s good to know cruisers are nearby.
“That’s the good thing about Laconia, we always have backup close to us,” he said.
The WOW Trail — short for Winnisquam, Opechee and Winnipesaukee — extends 2.5 miles from the Belmont town line to the Lakeport area of Laconia.
Backers would like to extend the blacktop through a rail corridor along Paugus Bay from Lakeport to Weirs Beach, a proposal first made about 1980. Ultimately, the plan is to extend it all the way to Meredith.
Proponents say such trails attract tourists, help the local economy and are an asset to the community.
A study is now being done on extending the trail, which faces opposition from people who live in gated communities near the rail corridor and are worried that their privacy could be disrupted.
Meanwhile, plans are being made to extend the WOW Trail up Elm Street along improved sidewalks and accessing the old State School property near Ahern State Park.