New Hampshire Rail Trail Brings Bikers and Hikers
DANBURY, N.H. (AP) - Paying homage to the past, organizers of New Hampshire’s longest rail trail have marked the efforts of two counties and the route that spans them with their own "golden spike."
In 1996, the state acquired 60 miles of the Northern Railroad, one of the longest surviving rail corridors in New Hampshire when it stopped carrying passengers and freight by the early 1970s. The goal was to convert the route into a recreation trail.
Since then, volunteers have worked to remove old rail ties, clean up the area and help secure grants and donations to resurface the route for year-round use. Today, 46 of the 60-mile Northern Rail Trail have been completed in western and central New Hampshire, including an 8.3-mile chunk recently finished near where Grafton and Merrimack counties meet. That’s where organizers had a spike ceremony at the end of July, in remembrance of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869.
"It’s a great thing," said Carol Cantor of New London, as she headed to try out of the newer trail in Danbury on her mountain bike. "It’s great for people who are afraid to drive in traffic and don’t like hills. It’s hard to find a place to ride without hills around New Hampshire." She added that she likes to bring guests who are not seasoned bike riders to the trail.
In addition to bicyclists and hikers, the flat, year-round trail can be used by horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers and dog sleds. The trail passes through Lebanon, Enfield, Canaan, Orange, Grafton, Danbury, Wilmot, Andover, Franklin and Boscawen.
The Danbury section also was used recently by a group of disabled veterans as part of a summer sports clinic. They operated specially designed cycles that feature a drive train powered by the arms rather than the legs. Ralph Marche from the Boston VA Healthcare System, one of the sponsors, said the trail was chosen because of its beauty, bike-friendly surface, wide expanse and flat surface.
Also, a "Firecracker 5K" run was held along a section of trail in nearby Andover on July 4th. Schools have used the trail for lessons about nature and health programs emphasizing walking on the trail to combat obesity have been developed.
"I have a great love and appreciation for this trail now that I am a father. I take my 3-year-old daughter, parents and family on it as often as possible," said Mike Loomis, who formally worked on strategies to promote active living for a community health network, with emphasis on the trail. He’s currently a board member of the nonprofit Friends of the Northern Rail Trail group in Merrimack County. There’s a similar group in Grafton County.
Board member Charles Martin of the Merrimack County group, who’s also president of the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition, has written a book about the state’s rail trails. He said he’s seen some beautifully engineered rail trails in other states, "but the scenery doesn’t compare to what we have here."
Visitors can see a variety of views - many river crossings, lakes, mountains and forests.
A few rail depots can still be seen, as well as old rail markers showing the distance to Boston and White River Junction, Vt.
The trail is described on the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy on its TrailLink.com website. The organization says there are more than 1,600 preserved rail trails spanning more than 19,800 miles in the country and growing. It lists the longest rail trail in the country in Missouri’s Katy Trail State Park, at 225 miles.
In New Hampshire, plans are to work on finishing a two-mile section this fall from Franklin to the site of the Daniel Webster Farm, and eventually finish the section farthest south.
Bob Ward, head of the Friends of the Northern Trail group in Merrimack County, said some bed and breakfasts and country inns along the route are starting to promote the use of the rail trail. "We’re seeing that as a direct benefit for tourism," he said.
In addition to finishing the entire trail, a future goal is to connect it to other trails that would go all the way to the Massachusetts line, resulting in 110 miles of continuous trail. It would be called the Granite State Rail Trail.
"Can you imagine what it would be like to bike that kind of distance and be off road all the way?" Martin said.
If You Go...
NORTHERN RAIL TRAIL IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: Former rail corridor converted to recreation trail for biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, walking and cross-country skiing, with 46 miles of the 60-mile stretch completed in western and central New Hampshire (Grafton and Merrimack counties);