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Basch: Lakes Region triple play that will knock rail trail lovers out

Bicyclist riding by mural at Bartlett Beach

The WOW Trail in Laconia contains views of Lakes Region waterways, mountains and several murals. Marty Basch Photo

For the Monitor

Published: 5/5/2019 4:47:02 PM

Lake Winnisquam, Opechee Bay and Lake Winnipesaukee are part of a Lakes Region triple play that will knock rail trail lovers out.

By combining Laconia’s WOW Trail with Belmont’s relatively new Lake Winnisquam Scenic Trail, cyclists and others using the paved multi-use pathways can enjoy traveling along the edge of the soothing and scenic waters with rippling mountains on the horizon. Then take in some urban charm in the form of colorful murals along the 10-foot wide track in the Lake City. There is plenty of access to shops and restaurants as well as a public beach. Benches dot the way and occasional placards provide a tad of history about the region, too.

The WOW Trail, at present, is 2.7 miles long while the Winni Trail as it is nicknamed clocks in at some 1.8 miles with its rises and turns making the out-and-back odyssey some nine miles.

Nine miles is also the planned length of the WOW Trail when it’s finished, the idea that it will keep on running from its current northern terminus in Lakeport to Meredith one day.

The Lakes Region is a popular summer tourist haven so pedaling the trails in spring is a plus before the crowds arrive. The WOW Trail has several access points including one in Lakeport, one by the former B&M train station in Laconia which saw passenger service end in the mid-1960s and another by Bartlett Beach. We chose the convenience of Belmont’s Leslie E. Roberts Beach and Recreation Area off Route 3 near the Laconia-Gilford bypass as it’s a gateway for both trails.

The first section of the trail between Lakeport and downtown opened in 2010 and has landmarks like a towering church spire on the United Baptist Church and the Romanesque Revival style Laconia Public Library, both on the National Register of Historic Places. The second section of the trail opened in 2016 and winds by the train station and Pitman’s Freight Room, a concert and function hall in a former freight depot.

Heading north, my wife Jan and I enjoyed the spin in late April and were soon hugging Lake Winnisquam’s picturesque shoreline – it’s New Hampshire’s fourth largest lake – and wound down along Bartlett Beach, favored by young families using the playground and picnic tables.

As the trail gets closer to downtown it makes good use of sidewalks that are well-marked in loud WOW colors. There were multiple street crossings and drivers generally heeded us wheeling into the crosswalks with one even wishing us a good day.

Railroad trestles, compact homes, plenty of water and lots of art were part of the landscape. Cyclists, runners, the lake, and the trail were subjects on many of the art walls. One was particularly clever, showcasing the names of the lakes in a Scrabble style while another encouraged healthy living. Bicycles, skateboards and scooters shared the pathway with walkers and joggers but there was less usage on the Winni Trail which opened in 2016 and runs nearly two miles to Route 3 by a farm and garden store.

If WOW is relatively flat, Winni is like a sea serpent resembling a roller coaster with its ups and downs and twists. Heck, there’s an 8% grade. The trail runs from the Leslie E. Roberts Beach and Recreation Area along the southern tip of Lake Winnisquam through rich forestland and a growing community of lakefront homes with a handsome wooden fence along the trail at times. A canopied pavilion is a nice spot for a rest or a picnic before venturing up to a well-placed bench courtesy of the Belmont Rotary Club with a wide-ranging look across the water to the mountains. The trail that winds down to Route 3 with a nice look at Mosquito Bridge (the real name is Winnisquam Bridge) which crosses the lake in Sanbornton. The bridge, according to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, got its nickname in the 1840s when it was a wooden bridge with a hump in it that resembled a mosquito’s back. That bridge was replaced in 1916 and lasted until 2006.

Though the two trails have history, they’re also looking to the future. The regional vision is to one day connect Meredith to Franklin and the Northern Rail Trail. But for the present, there’s miles of riding along calming waters.

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