When Will the Rail Trail Be Done?

Editor’s note: This “Taking to the Trails” column first appeared in The Londonderry Times newspaper.

By Mike Byerly, Londonderry Trailways

People ask us this all the time. And the answer? Well, it’s complicated because there are several parties involved.  Here are updates on the Londonderry Rail Trail as well as the trail segments in nearby Salem, Windham, Derry and Manchester. They are all part of the Granite State Rail Trail which, while in various stages of development, spans 125 miles from the Massachusetts border to Lebanon, NH.

All of Windham’s 4.3 miles of the Trail have been paved for some years, so trail enthusiasts can currently enjoy about 9.5 miles of uninterrupted Rail Trail from Hood Pond Park in Derry to the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, the longest stretch of pavement on the entire Trail. The other towns are still developing portions of their Trail.

Londonderry

Today there are 4.5 miles of completed Rail Trail in Londonderry, from route 28 at Seasons Lane to Harvey Road where it borders the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Both ends of the trail are to be extended, north to Manchester and south to Derry, completing 6.1 miles of trail.

      First up is phase 6, a one-mile stretch heading north that will end at the Manchester town line.  We hope to begin construction in 2022 on a route that is expected to run on the former railroad bed, largely along the fence line of the airport. Funding for the estimated $1.2M cost for this project came from an $800K federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant, and $400K from Londonderry’s unassigned fund balance.  Voters approved the Town’s contribution in 2019 by a 3:1 margin.

      At the southern end of our current Rail Trail, phase 7 will eventually connect Londonderry to Derry along a 0.6-mile stretch.  The timing of this phase is hard to predict because this section will cross property that will be impacted by the planned I-93 Exit 4a Project. The project was recently delayed an estimated two years after bids exceeded the approved budget by over $30 million.  This probably means that Exit 4a and the completion of the Trail are 4-5 years off.

      In the meantime, Londonderry Trailways is fundraising and developing plans for a proposed Pedestrian Hybrid Beacon (PHB) to help get pedestrians safely across Route 28 when the time comes. (A PHB is already in place where the Trail crosses Route 28 near North School.) We are also working on the design of a bridge that will cross Beaver Brook in this phase. Our section and the adjoining undeveloped section in Derry will need to cross a property owned by a private landowner who has indicated support once Exit 4a has broken ground.            

Derry

Like us, Derry is gated by the Exit 4a Project before they can develop a 0.4 mile stretch from Madden Road to the Londonderry town line. Part of the project includes a pedestrian tunnel in Derry that would go under the planned access road from the exit, close to the current intersection of Madden Road and North High Street. The Derry Rail Trail Alliance has lobbied the State for inclusion of this tunnel so that the access road will not bisect their trail.

      Derry plans to submit a TAP grant application to help fund this roughly $1M project. TAP grants cover 80% of the cost with the applicant responsible for the remaining 20%, and Derry has already allocated funding for their portion.  They hope to get the grant and be ready when work on Exit 4a commences.

      In addition to the TAP application, the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission included the project in its Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which will be forwarded to the NH Department of Transportation, Governor and State Legislature for funding consideration.

      Meanwhile, Derry is currently constructing a 0.35-mile paved stretch from North High Street to Hood Park that crosses the re-engineered Hood Pond Dam.  The Town had been negotiating the engineering plan with the State for several years, and will complete the project in the spring. Once these last two sections are done, Derry will offer 4 miles of Rail Trail to explore.

Salem

Since 2018 Salem has had two miles of paved trail running from the Windham town line to the historic Salem Depot on Main Street.  The remaining 3.1 miles to the Massachusetts border is stabilized but not paved, so it is best for walking, mountain bikes or experienced riders.

Phases 4 and 5 of the trail will extend it to the Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection with Route 28.  This is funded with $800K in federal money through the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant program.  The grant requires a 20% match which has been provided by the owners of Tuscan Village in Salem. Construction is gated by utility work along the corridor, so Salem is hoping for a 2022 project completion.

A phase 6 of 0.6 miles is in design and includes plans for a refuge island crossing of Veterans Memorial Parkway, Route 28 crosswalks, and building the trail to and across Cluff Crossing.  Another CMAQ grant plus the 20% from the Town will fund that section. This phase will commence after phases 4 and 5 are completed.

The rest of the trail to Massachusetts is covered with recycled asphalt, which is fine for walking and mountain bikes, but not a good surface for road bikes.  While there are no plans to fully pave this section, Salem is fundraising to pave a short section and create parking spaces at a trailhead near the state border.

Manchester

The 2.1-mile Piscataquog Rail Trail connects the West Side of Manchester to the Goffstown Rail Trail, covering a total of 7.5 miles. From the NorthEast Delta Dental Stadium (home of the Fisher Cats) on the Heritage Trail, the paved Piscataquog Trail crosses the Merrimack River on the Hands Across the Merrimack Bridge and then heads northwest, crossing the Irving and Bernice Singer Memorial Bridge over the Piscataquog River to Goffstown. 

The Heritage Trail also features the picturesque Riverwalk in the Manchester Millyard. Future phases of the Heritage Trail include development of a six-mile recreational trail from North to South, adjacent to the railroad corridor and defining a paved path through the Millyard, linking communities and connecting to Elm Street.

The South Manchester Trail parallels South Willow Street and is paved from Gold Street near the Hebrew and St. Augustine Cemeteries north to Beech Street. From there, Manchester has a preliminary design but is reconsidering the best way to reach Elm Street by 2022. In the other direction, funding is already in place and a design is being finalized to develop the trail from Gold Street near the Wal-Mart to Perimeter Road, also targeting a 2022 completion date.

Manchester, also, has received a TAP grant to construct the trail around the airport to the Londonderry town line, and the City has committed the 20% matching funds. This part of the trail will run from South Willow Street to Perimeter Road and Harvey Road.  The TAP grant funding is set for 2025; however, that date could move up depending on the status of the Londonderry’s trail progress and the overall project design readiness.

For more local Rail Trail information, check out our website: http://www.londonderrytrails.org.

Londonderry Winter Adventures

Editor’s note: This “Taking to the Trails” column first appeared in The Londonderry Times newspaper.

By Mike Byerly, Londonderry Trailways

Let’s face it, some people dread winter.  However, for those who enjoy winter weather, Londonderry is a great place for getting outside for fun, exercise and fresh air – even in the winter!  Aside from your own yard, there are many recreational areas in town that provide joy in the white stuff.

At the top of the list is Mack’s Apples on Mammoth Road.  It offers a very popular sledding hill behind their main building, with a small hill for the less daring and a large hill for the more adventurous. In fact, Mack’s, Sunnycrest, Elwood, and Merrill orchards offer miles and miles of space for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or just walking through the snow. 

Hike, ski, skate or fish

At Mack’s you will find a groomed cross-country trail that runs to Adams Pond, then up and around their orchard on Adams Road.  The trail entrance is on the dirt road that runs between Mammoth and Pillsbury Roads. If you walk along the Adams Pond Trail, please stay outside the groomed area to protect the grooming for skiers.

All the orchards have plenty of ungroomed snowscape available. When it is cold enough you can ice skate on the pond at Mack’s. Speaking of ponds, Scobie Pond on Brewster Road in Londonderry is a fun place for ice fishing if that is your thing.

If you want to hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski on wooded trails you have many options.  For a short hike, check out the Kendall Pond Conservation Area.  This is an easy loop and great for little ones.

Fun in the Musquash & Rail Trail

For more variety and challenge, the Musquash Conservation Area is very popular with residents from all over southern New Hampshire.  It offers over 20 miles of serene, well-marked trails that can be accessed from trailheads on Tanager Way, Preserve Drive, Faucher Road, Sara Beth Lane and Hickory Hill Drive.  The trails are blazed and well signed, and maps are available at each trailhead.

In February, the Conservation Commission holds its annual Musquash Field Day event.  A short walk in from Hickory Hill Drive, the event includes a campfire, free food and fun activities for kids and adults alike. The Musquash is also very popular with mountain bikers, even in the winter.  They use fat tire bikes for improved traction and control.

While it is not plowed or maintained in any other way during the winter, the Londonderry Rail Trail is another great option for getting outside in the winter to walk, or if snowfall cooperates, cross-country ski or snowshoe.

Regardless of where you go, at times when the snow gets packed down and moisture conspires with cold temperature to form a layer of ice, walking in regular footwear can be treacherous. In cases like this, it is a good idea to get some microspikes that fit over your boots, for added traction.

And if you are still not convinced to embrace the Londonderry winter scene, pack your bags and take a nice drive over to the north side of Londonderry and Manchester Boston Regional Airport. It offers daily non-stop flights to Florida.

A Brief History of Londonderry’s Rail Trail

Editor’s note: This “Taking to the Trails” column first appeared in The Londonderry Times newspaper.

By Paul Margolin, Londonderry Trailways

We are indebted to our Londonderry forefathers, who have been fine stewards of our natural resources over the Town’s 300-year history. Despite enormous growth in population the last 60 years—from 2,500* in 1960 to over 26,000 today—the Town still offers rustic countryside with multiple apple orchards, abundant ball fields, over 1,000 acres in the Musquash Conservation Area, and a network of walking trails throughout our 41.9 square miles. (*The 1830 census counted fully 1,469 residents!)

And while Londonderry has convenient highway access to northern New Hampshire and south to Boston and beyond, it also benefits in a quieter way, from being one of the 16 fortunate communities that host a portion of the 125-mile Granite State Rail Trail. This route stretches from Lebanon on the Vermont border to Salem on the Massachusetts line. Volunteer groups from each town along the Trail are hard at work redeveloping former rail roads that will one day all be linked.

Born as a railroad

The period from 1830–1860 is when railroads first took off. At their peak, 300,000 miles of track had been laid across America, six times today’s length of interstate highways. It has been said that the train depot replaced the village green as the center of New England towns after 1850.

The Manchester and Lawrence Railroad opened in 1849, bringing freight and passenger service between Manchester and Boston for the first time. The Boston & Maine Railroad, which dominated New England, acquired the line in 1887. B&M rail lines fueled the development of New England’s manufacturing cities, generated tourism and diminished the isolation of life in the country.

Londonderry’s main station was on Mammoth Road just north of Hall Road, a site known as the Londonderry village. A fire in 1921 destroyed the village, including the station, the Annis Grain & Lumber mill, the post office, general store and one home. An old passenger car served as a station until 1930, when the small station at Wilson Crossing—where Auburn Road now meets Verani Way—replaced it. Wilson Depot had closed early in World War I.

End of the line

The advent of automobiles signaled the end of railroad dominance, followed by the Great Depression. After a surge during World War II, rail transportation nose-dived; passenger service to Manchester ceased in 1953. The line from Derry to the airport was abandoned by Boston & Maine in 1986, closing Londonderry’s railroad chapter.

People have been walking along deserted rail beds since the 1960s, but as thousands of miles of lines were being abandoned in the 1980’s, Congress stepped in to create “rail-banking,” which allowed interim use of trails while preserving inactive corridors for future rail potential. The Rails-to Trails Conservancy nonprofit was founded in 1986 to promote corridor preservation, recreation and protection of open space. And in 1991, federal funds first became available to help develop trails explicitly for alternative transportation programs.

The Rail Trail today

Since 2013, Londonderry Trailways members have collaborated with residents to develop 4.5 of our 6.1 miles of the Trail— now almost 75% complete. The newest segment, finished in fall of 2019, is the Little Cohas section that begins in old Londonderry village and reaches the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport at Harvey Road. The next phase is already funded and will connect us with Manchester sometime in the next two years.

The final phase will then bring us to Derry and complete our mission of developing the Town’s entire Rail Trail. It will also fill a gap in the southern NH route and help lead to a continuous, paved pathway from Manchester to Salem. For now, trail enthusiasts can enjoy a round trip of 9 miles in Londonderry. For a longer stretch, park at Hood Pond in Derry and travel 9.4 miles to the Tuscan Kitchen in Salem–18.8 miles round trip.

Trail Update: Additional parking – the Town of Londonderry, in cooperation with the Manchester–Boston Airport has graded the land for parking across the street from our current, northern trail endpoint on Harvey Road, and painted a crosswalk for trail users. For more Trailways information, go to: http://www.londonderrytrailways.org.

Phase 6 Funded

Phase 6 of Londonderry’s Rail Trail has been funded! A large grant was awarded to the Town from federal funds and the citizen’s of Londonderry voted to provide the required 20% match. This section, known as the Airport segment, will run from Harvey Rd (current northern terminus) along the right side of the airport runway fence on the old rail corridor up to the Aviation Museum and continue on to the Manchester town line. Design & Engineering is expected to begin summer/fall of 2020 and will take several years to complete. Go to Rail Trail>What’s Ahead for more info.

Escape the Confinement

Editor’s note: This “Taking to the Trails” column first appeared in The Londonderry Times newspaper.

By Paul Margolin, Londonderry Trailways

Welcome to the first official column from Londonderry Trailways. We are a group of 10 “board member” volunteers who take great pride in developing, maintaining and promoting the Town’s many walking trails. But most of all, we love taking to the trails ourselves, just to experience them. In the months ahead, we look forward to sharing with you our passion for the packed earth pathways, paved rail trails, historic routes–and even the occasional ruts and roots–of Londonderry’s vast trail network.

In this uncertain time of public health concerns and limited opportunities for social engagement, many of you have found release, relief and pleasure along the Rail Trail; and we couldn’t be happier. I often see neighbors paired up and walking down our street for some fresh air and exercise, and my wife and I are among them. During a recent walk on the newest segment of the Rail Trail that borders the scenic Little Cohas Brook, I counted 62 people and 7 dogs (not to mention 10 bikers, 7 joggers, 5 strollers, and an in-line skater!).

Nevertheless, we hope you’ve seen the recent signage posted along the Rail Trail from the Fire Department, which is requesting trail enthusiasts to “Help us help you,” regarding social distancing:

  1. Do not use the trails if you are feeling sick or are exhibiting symptoms
  2. Share the trail & warn others as you approach.
  3. Follow the CDC’s rules on personal hygiene before visiting the trail
  4. Maintain the recommended 6 feet of separation

“To park or not to park”: Where

Here are some other advisories that we hope you’ll find helpful. When parking your car on a visit to the Rail Trail, be sure to choose a spot that is safe and secure, and that is not a commercial parking lot. (Local businesses need to reserve their parking places for their customers.) The best places to park near the Trail are:

  • In the parking lot across the street from North Elementary School on Sanborn Road (when school is not in session)
  • At the state Park and Ride on the west side of I-93 Exit 5 at 4 Symmes Drive. Choose the overflow or long term lots.
  • At the Peat Bog segment trailhead on Independence Drive, where it intersects with Liberty Drive. On weekends, residents also have permission to park in Duncan’s European Automotive parking lot, just around the corner at 3 Liberty Drive.

Please do not park at the southern end of the trail by the intersection of Rockingham Road and Seasons Lane; along Verani Way; or in the Poor Boy’s Diner parking lot.

Walking the dog

            Lastly, a word about what one might call the “elephant on the trail”:…dog poop. (Ahem.) Our trails are wonderful for walking your dog. Dogs love to be there, and we all love to bring them. (In fact, I had to remind my wife recently to refrain from petting a particularly cute cairn terrier–another temporarily prohibited behavior.) Believe it or not, I recently met a woman on a secluded trail who was hiking with her two cats!

            Now, most people do the right thing and come prepared: when nature calls (the dog), they scoop up the poop in a small plastic bag and take responsibility for disposing it when they leave the trail. However, all too often we see a small blue, red or green bag left along the trail, as if the Sanitation Department does daily pickups. Well, they don’t.

So dog owners: please don’t forget to carry out your pet’s waste, so the beauty and cleanliness of the trail can be fully enjoyed by all. Don’t just bag it—as our trail signs say, “Clean up after your dog.” We appreciate your compliance.

            The cold weather is finally receding, so keep making your getaway to Londonderry’s great outdoors, and enjoy all the variety that our many trails offer. For more information about them, check out our website at www.londonderrytrails.org.

Phase 5 Completed!

Wow, another section of Londonderry’s Rail Trail was completed in October/November 2019. This is a very scenic section that follows the old rail corridor through the Little Cohas Marsh.  Many Rail Trail fans made sure to check it out as soon as it was open in the late fall and even until the first snow. 2020 will be the first spring and summer this section is open. Londonderry’s Rail Trail is now 4.5 miles long, one-way! If you walk/ride the entire completed paved Londonderry Rail Trail and return to where you started that’s 9 miles round trip.

A Message from The President

Editor’s note: This “Taking to the Trails” column first appeared in The Londonderry Times newspaper.

My name is Bob Rimol and in 2019, I became the President of Londonderry Trailways.  First, I would like to thank Bob Saur, our past president for all his hard work and accomplishments over the years.  Bob continues to serve on our Board and remains as dedicated as ever to Trailways objectives and tasks. 

In my new role as president, I have several goals to continue fulfilling our mission statement:  “Our mission is to develop a network of safe bike/walk routes throughout Londonderry that connect neighborhoods, schools, businesses, recreational facilities and points of interest, in order to encourage recreation, exercise, reduce automobile use and create a greater sense of community.”  These goals include:

  1. Continue with our main goal of completing the Londonderry Rail Trail.
  2. Begin to refocus our other efforts on both trail development and trail maintenance to other trails around town.
  3. Collaborate and partner with the Conservation Commission, Londonderry Athletic Field Association (LAFA), Scouts, schools, and other civic groups and individuals on the use and preservation of our town trails.

Let me provide you with a summary of our accomplishments of 2019 and where we will be going in 2020.

Rail Trail:  Early in the year we secured 1.4 million dollars with a federal TAP Grant (Transportation Alternatives Program) for $800,000 and a Town warrant article for $600,000 for the development of Phases 5 (the Cohas segment) and Phase 6 (the Airport segment).  We went on to successfully complete Phase 5 of the rail trail, adding exactly one mile of trail to the existing 3.5 miles.  Construction was completed in October within our budgeted amount.  Design and engineering for Phase 6 of the rail trail will begin in 2020, and our goal is to construct the Airport segment in 2022.

Town Trails:  We are beginning to assess and prioritize other trail projects around town with a closer examination of the feasibility of their completion.  Possible projects include a Loop Trail around the LAFA fields and recreational complex, the extension of the school path from the Kindergarten to Wilshire Road, and the repair and replacement of some bridges on the Adam’s Pond Trail.

Partnerships:  We are now communicating more frequently with the Conservation Commission, particularly with the help of Mike Byerly, who now serves both boards.  We hope to team up with them on certain activities including trail clean up days and trail maintenance around town. Last fall we completed a renovation and upgrade of the path from the Kings neighborhood to the tennis courts at the recreational complex.  And later we collaborated with LAFA on cleaning up the path from the library to the LAFA fields by spreading road millings on the path for a better quality of trail.  We also built a kiosk with the help of an Eagle Scout at the entrance to the Peat Bog Section of the rail trail.  Moving forward, we anticipate working with other civic groups and individuals on projects to help us build and enhance our trail system.

It has been stated over and over again that trails for recreational use and active transportation are a priority in Londonderry in our Town’s Master Plan.  I am very fortunate to have a great team of Board members that include Sandra Lagueux (Vice President), Kim Hamilton (Treasurer), Mike Byerly (Secretary), Bob Saur, John Daley and Paul Margolin.  Our team is motivated and we have a great deal of fun fulfilling the mission of Londonderry Trailways.  We would like to add a few Board members to our team.  If you are interested, you may reach out to me at bobrimol@gmail.com 

Happy Trails,

Bob Rimol

Another successful Family Fun Day

Back in May, londonderry Trailways hosted another successful free Family fun Day event at the North School Trail head. There was free hot dogs, yogurts, pizza & drinks thanks to the support of some amazing local businesses. There was also free games for the kids and music. We estimate about 300 people attended this year. Thank you to Stonyfield yogurt, Coca cola, Giovanni’s Pizza and 501 Pizza. Everything was delicious!

Phase 4 Ground Breaking has Begun!

The trucks are on site and the construction of Phase 4 has begun! In March 2017 Londonderry citizens voted to support Phase 4 of the Rail Trail, which means the funds would be released July 2017 at the start of the Town’s next fiscal year. From April – Oct 2017 there was lots of behind the scenes activity going on that is necessary before construction ground breaking could occur. During this time Trailways was working hard to get final approvals from 2 State agencies, writing the detailed bid specs, following the Town process of going out to bid, and hiring a contractor. The long lead time item of the pedestrian crossing light was also ordered by the chosen contractor during this time. And now construction has begun. Phase 4 with the lighted crossing of Rt 28 is expected to be completed by Spring 2018, ready for the new warm weather season! THANK YOU for your continued support Londonderry!!