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Allan Beetle - Finding the highest & best use for this incredible piece of public real estate

Laconia resident Allan Beetle is president of the WOW Trail organization.

The WOW Trail in Laconia, Winni Scenic Trail in Belmont and the Winni River Trail in Franklin now combine for eight miles of rail trail for the surrounding communities to enjoy. The towns and cities and civic organizations along this state-owned corridor supported a study to look at the best way forward for completing the Franklin to Weirs Beach 20-mile rail trail, comparing the pros and cons to the community of continuing to build the remaining 12 miles of trail ALONGSIDE the current railroad tracks, or IN PLACE of the railroad tracks.

The report, soon to be made public, is being conducted by Alta Planning & Design, a firm specializing in the pedestrian and bicycle “industry.” Alta is currently under contract with the N.H. DOT, assisting with a state-wide pedestrian and bicycle plan.

The bulk of the work for this study has been done, including numerous interviews with key stakeholders, and the draft report has now been reviewed by over 40 people, including representatives from N.H. DOT Bureau of Rail, a small rail-freight train business, a tourist train-ride operation, South Down Shores & Long Bay Associations, local snowmobile clubs, business owners and others.

There is a loose end that is holding up the release of the report related to the impact on a Tilton manufacturing company that receives about eight freight deliveries a year by rail. To my knowledge, they are the only company located between Tilton and Lincoln still doing so. When that information is obtained, the final report will be released and presented to the Laconia City Council.

The study will report that a completed regional trail, built alongside or in place of the railroad tracks, will encourage hundreds of thousands of user trips each year, bringing benefits to our community that include increased tourism and spending, health and safety benefits, new transportation options (think errands and commuting to work), improved property values and more. Completing this regional trail from Franklin to Weirs Beach will make our communities a more desirable place to live and visit.

Bringing thousands of trail users to the platform at Weirs Beach will make for a spectacular terminus for the north end of this regional trail, with users having a tremendous selection of amenities including beach and scenic vistas, ice cream, mini golf, boat rides, train rides, and much more. What would be the impact to Weirs Beach?

Bringing thousands of people downstream through Lakeport, downtown Laconia, Belmont, Lochmere, downtown Tilton and again into downtown Franklin will surely improve the vitality and desirability of the properties and businesses along the way. Franklin, representing the southern terminus of this regional trail, has its own exciting future unfolding. What impact would this have on Franklin’s resurgence?

There’s no doubt why there has been tremendous growth in rail trails (2,131 open rail trails for a total of 24,085 miles) across our country and many projects in the works (818 rail trail projects for a total of 8,734 miles). It’s because people want to be able to safely connect to their communities, whether to run an errand on foot or by bike, take a stroll or a ride for exercise, walk or ride to work, or to safely travel and explore new places.

One-hundred-fifty plus years ago this railroad corridor was established to bring economic prosperity to the region. And it did. Then passenger rail ended in the mid 60s and freight essentially ended in the 70s. Fifty years ago the Lakes Region Planning Commission submitted a plan for this regional bicycle and pedestrian trail.

Today we have the opportunity to create something special that will generate positive economic impact and much, much more. And unlike the railroad in the 1800s, WE (the State of N.H.) already own the land and if new technologies should ever make passenger or freight economically viable and a better use of this land, then the state would always have the option to upgrade or reinstall the rail in the future.

This is incredibly valuable real estate running right through our communities that would provide access to spectacular river, lake and mountain views to thousands of trail users. Trestles and causeways are used more for fishing and jumping-off of spots (illegally) than any train operations.

Are you satisfied with the current utilization of this state-owned piece of land? Are we putting it to its best and highest use? Is it contributing to the vitality of our communities? If you’re like me, you might agree it’s time for a change to the status quo.

I look forward to sharing the results of this study with you soon.

Hope to see you on the trail!

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