Sunday, September 13, 2009

Windham Rail Trail

We enjoyed a "mini-fam" power walk along the Windham Rail Trail today. It was a perfect day, weather-wise and we enjoyed every minute. Monk said hi to so many passer-bys and she continuously entertained mama and daddy while she put her legs up to stretch and leisurely snacked on her "yogurt-melts" is some info on the trail...another hidden jewel in our town!

Trail Background

During 2003, the State of New Hampshire formed a Citizens Advisory Committee to involve the communities and regional planning agencies in the Salem to Concord Bikeway Feasibility Study process. Comprised of state agencies, consultants and citizens, the purpose of the committee was to study three options of developing a Bicycle and Pedestrian path along the Route 93 corridor. This path would provide an alternative mode of transportation, diverse recreational opportunities and increased commerce to the communities along the trail.

The recommended approach was to develop such a path using the abandoned Manchester and Lawrence, Concord to Portsmouth rail beds, and segments of the New Hampshire Heritage Trail, as the foundation for the trail. The consensus for surface choice was paved, as it was determined that a paved path would best serve anticipated users (bicyclists, pedestrians including walkers, runners) and because of the nature of a smooth surface, would allow easier use for strollers, wheelchairs, and elderly. Additionally a non-paved path has proven to require more frequent maintenance. With adequate shoulders, a non-paved area along the path would serve for those who would benefit from that availability such as equestrian users and joggers. For the detailed results of the feasibility study, please read the “Salem to Concord Bikeway Feasibility Study” available through the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Rockingham Trail - Windham

This paved 4.1 Mile section starts from the intersection of Routes 111 and 28 in Salem continuing to a point on North Lowell Road, Windham.

The Manchester and Lawrence Branch was constructed in 1847 to 1849 when the industrial revolution expanded to cities north of Boston. The first train ran the entire length in November 1849. A 3-mile section in Windham proved the most expensive to build because of extensive cutting through ledge and filling of lowlands.

The last train ran in the early 70’s with abandonment occurring shortly after. The rails were removed for salvage in the early 1980’s.

This section of rail-bed was used as a multi-purpose trail for about the past 18 years managed by NH Department of Resources and Economic Development. As of September 3, 2003 legislation was passed which allows for OHRV use only when the trail is snow covered (per DRED definition of snow covered/when the gates are open.) As well, the same law applies from the Windham Depot east for about a 1.5-mile section (part of the Worcester/Nashua/Portsmouth Branch) to Route 28. The parking lot in Windham is open from 1/2 hour before to 1/2 hour after sunset.

This is a scenic stretch of trail, which traverses by a farm pasture, apple orchard, two ponds and marshes, and is predominately wooded. There are two bridges that the trail crosses. One is built of New Hampshire granite as an archway and provides a unique architectural significance. Two high stone cuts provide a cool section of passing on hot days, and in the winter support multi-colored ice flow “sculptures.” The trail also passes several stonewalls, and a cellar hole from an 1800’s sawmill.

Wildlife is abundant along this stretch, as deer, upland animals and birds, owls, turtles and fisher cats have been observed. Heron and beavers have established themselves in the wetland habitat along the trail; various species of duck, and geese nest as well.

The Windham Depot buildings and surrounding town property has been designated a historic district by the Town of Windham in 2003. The Depot building and freight storage building remain intact, however in need of rehabilitation. The WRTA believes that the restoration of the Depot buildings and parking lot plays an important part of the overall trail development project. The Town of Windham shares the similar vision, chartering the Windham Depot Buildings Advisory Committee to develop recommendations to site improvements. With the award of a Transportation Enhancement Grant in May 2006, that project is well positioned for a 2008 start.


Craig Della Penna said...


The unique thing about that rail trail is that it is the first place in the U.S. where a park was unmade.

In the 1970s it was set up for motorized use. Back then that meant an occaisional dirt bike. By the early 2000s, it meant an invasion of ATVs. So much so that the neighbors banded together to petition the appropriate panels to take back the park. To make it only open for non-motorized uses.

It was a terrific fight with the NH Trails Bureau [aka DRED] who likes motorized uses, but in the end, the community took back the park and made it into what you have today.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Craig Della Penna
413-575-2277 mobile.

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