In 2002, Laconia’s Planning Director, Dawn Emerson, requested that each City Councilor submit three potential City projects for inclusion into the City’s updated Master Plan. The Councilors submitted their preferred projects to her. Dawn selected two projects from those lists to include in the Master Plan, one of which was a recreational path spanning the city along a railroad right of way, as proposed by City Councilor Fred Toll. The path was quickly named the Winnisquam-Opechee-Winnipesaukee Trail, or WOW Trail.
In January 2003, Fred and Dawn called the first meeting of those interested in creating the WOW Trail. The original members of this committee included Fred (President); Dawn (Secretary); Diane Hanley (Vice President); Phil Rowley, Laconia Director of Parks and Recreation; Bob Champlin, Superintendent of Laconia Schools; Captain Tim Cavanaugh, Laconia Police Department; Jeff Buchanan, President Southdown Recreation Association; Theresa Pinto Lamson of the Chamber of Commerce, Allan Beetle, Steven Smith, Dick Stuart, Kinney O’Rourke, and Peter Brunette. The organizing committee was called the Laconia Trails with Rails Exploratory Committee, or LTREC.
This committee presented the concept of the WOW Trail to City Council on July 14th, 2003. LTREC would apply for non-profit status and the group would raise the funds necessary to construct the trail and pursue its construction. The City of Laconia would accept and maintain the trail afterwards as a city park. LTREC asked the City Council for permission to move forward with applying for a federal grant for Phase 1 of the trail. The Council voted unanimously to appropriate $40,000 in matching funds and act as municipal manager of the project if the federal grant was awarded.
On July 9th, 2004, LTREC won the federal grant for $328,000 to build Phase 1. In May 2004, we held our first annual WOW Sweepstakes Ball which has since become our most successful fundraising effort for the trail. Sadly, in December 2005, Councilor Fred Toll unexpectedly passed away. LTREC has continued in Fred’s honor to see the project to fruition.
In 2006, LTREC obtained 501(c)3 non-profit organization status and was awarded a second grant for $440,000 to build Phase 2. Since that time, the Board of Directors updated the name of the organization from LTREC to WOW Trail.
The firm of H.E. Bergeron Engineers was selected and began design engineering for Phase 1 in 2007. Phase 1 design was completed and approved by NH DOT and bids for construction contractors commenced June 2009. Construction of Phase 1 was completed the Spring of 2010 with a grand opening ceremony May 15, 2010.
Between 2010 and Fall 2011, the Lakeport entrance to the trail has been beautified with plantings sponsored by the Opechee Garden Club & local businesses. In addition, Tim Jordan Associates designed and Belknap Landscape, Inc. installed pavers, benches and a stairway at the Lakeport entrance to the trail.
Today, the WOW Trail Board is working on final design and fundraising for the planned Phase 2 expansion of the trail in 2015.