== Bike-Walk Alliance of NH ==
July 22, 2009 "M&L-South Tour" through Salem, Windham, and Derry to Londonderry
Meeting location: Route 93 Exit 2 Park and Ride Terminal, Salem, NH
Coordinated by: Bike-Walk Alliance of NH
Matt Caron, SNHRPC
John Daley, Derry RTA & Londonderry Trailways
Larry Keniston, NH DOT Bureau of Rail and Transit
John Maurice, SBPC Committee & Buchikas
Jerry Moore, NH DOT Bike-Ped Office
Wayne Morris, Windham RTA
Mark Samsel, Windham RTA
Greg Samsel, Windham RTA & Explorer Scouts
Dave Topham, BWA-NH
Articles appeared in the Derry News and Windham News but unfortunately BWA-NH did not obtain the text. Some of the photos taken on the tour may be viewed here.
Review the projects completed, underway, and planned to create a continuous paved rail trail/transportation corridor from Salem at Route 93 Exit 2 to Londonderry at Exit 5. The former Boston and Maine Railroad corridor known as the Manchester-Lawrence branch provides the backbone for this rail trail. When completed, the trail is planned to extend from Methuen MA to Concord NH per the 2003 Rizzo I-93 Bikeway Study.
The group consisted of Larry Keniston and Jerry Moore from NH DOT Bureau of Rail and Transit, Matt Caron from the Southern NH Regional Planning Commission, and representatives from the Salem, Windham, Derry, and Londonderry rail trail organizations. The rail trail representatives are part of the Southern NH Rail Trail Alliance which is currently seeking Transportation Enhancement funds to connect the corridor from Salem to downtown Derry. All participants bicycled on the completed and nearly-completed sections of the rail trail while using motor vehicles in caravan fashion to access key points of interest and ride starting locations.
A lot was seen and learned by all participants. Photos were taken, reporters from the Eagle Tribune met the group in Windham (see attached article), and various business people encountered along the route offered suggestions. Coordination of the tour and various handouts were provided by the Bike-Walk Alliance of NH.
The following notes were taken as the group proceeded from Salem to North Londonderry. Each location noted below offered a unique view of the overall project and how the towns, organizations, and NH DOT are working together on this project.
Salem Route 93 Exit 2: The group assembled in the Park and Ride lot while observing the nearly-new bus terminal. Introductions were made and a general overview of the planned tour was presented by Dave T. Handouts were provided for the tour itinerary, cue sheet and maps for the route to be driven, an overview map of the rail trail corridor from Salem to Londonderry, aerial views of the corridor, and documentation giving the background of the Southern NH Rail Trail Alliance.
This Exit 2 terminal is considered a key destination along the Salem Bike-Ped Corridor. Bicyclist can easily access this facility from the trail to incorporate intermodal transportation into daily commuting. A trail connection from Main Street to the first section planned for construction at Old Rockingham Road will be needed for the purpose of linking bicycle transportation to the Exit 2 terminal.
Salem Depot, Main Street corridor crossing: This was the first stop for the group. The restoration of the Salem Depot building was highlighted; it is over 50% complete with the interior work now well underway. The Depot will provide rest rooms and water for users of the corridor while providing other services yet to be determined. The group viewed the encroachments on the corridor, namely the parking lot for a Chinese restaurant on the south side of Main Street and Dodge Grain using the corridor for their trucks just north of the Depot building.
Old Rockingham Road at North Broadway Crossing: Our second stop was in the parking lot of the Pentucket Bank at the south end of the first Salem section planned to be constructed parallel to the DOT-owned section of Route 28. Donna Velt, Senior Branch Manager at the bank, came out to greet everyone. She also serves on the Salem Depot Restoration Committee to which the Pawtucket Bank donated $30,000. The shops in the North Broadway Crossing complex behind the bank would be of interest to users of the bike-ped corridor.
The group viewed the corridor crossing of Old Rockingham Road and noted the existing crosswalk across Route 28 and the traffic lights with a pedestrian activation button. Little is needed at this crossing to accommodate trail users - except to build the trail. Before driving north on Route 28 to the old Route 111 crossing, Dave T. pointed out the raised and depressed areas of the original rail bed. The depressed area through a rock cut is now a wetland and would not allow access to businesses along Route 28 even if it were dry and passable. A cattle crossing bridge under the raised area was pointed out; trail users would travel over the bridge but might not know it if not informed.
Salem-Windham Town Line: This third stop is usually referenced as "the old Route 111 corner" or "Cycles Etc. corner" for the well-known bicycle shop at that location. The planned 1.1 mile Salem section of the bike-ped corridor joins the unfinished Windham Rail Trail just north of the Cycles Etc. parking lot. The group viewed the trail crossing point of the old Route 111 and noted relatively little motor traffic thanks to the new Route 111. The unimproved 0.6 mile section of the Windham Rail Trail immediately north on the town line is passable on mountain bikes and hybrids, not road bikes commonly used for transportation. This section includes the $578,000.00 bridge built by NH DOT to span the relocated Route 111.
As chance would have it, Mark Hetzer, the owner of Cycles Etc. and supporter of the Windham Rail Trail project, was working outside and expressed two key concerns:
1. With the Windham
Rail Trail becoming better known and more popular, trail users have been parking
in the Cycles Etc. lot thereby preventing customers from reaching the bike shop
and Lindy's, the restaurant at that same location. Trail users attempting to
park in this private lot have been asked to move and in some cases had their
cars towed away. Reference was made to the former Roger's Garage location which
is planned to offer trail-side parking for about 18 cars. Per Wayne Morris,
the paperwork is moving between NH DOT and DRED to allow construction of this
parking lot, an action that cannot happen soon enough for the owners of Cycles
Etc. and Lindy's restaurant - not to mention the trail users.
2. Mark Hetzer also pointed out that while snowmobiles are allowed on the Windham Rail Trail with snow cover in the winter, they are not allowed in Salem or his private parking lot. Snowmobilers have been using the trail and entering his parking lot to turn around, sometimes causing damage to grass and the driveway. Posted signs on his property have done little good. Mark Hetzer requested the WRTA or NH DOT post signs to inform snowmobilers to turn around before crossing into Salem and his parking lot.
Windham Depot: The caravan stopped at the popular trail head for the Windham Rail Trail and was met by reporter Terry Date and photographer Allegra Boverman from the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. They interviewed everyone in the group and had their article printed the next day, July 23. (Copy attached.) Our group then proceeded to cycle the entire length of the trail from the Derry town line to the Salem town line, a 4.1 mile corridor of which 3.5 miles does not have a single cross road. Wayne Morris narrated the high points along the trail including five projects completed by Explorer Troop # 266. Greg Samsel, son of WRTA President Mark Samsel, helped with the Explorer projects. An information kiosk, rest areas with granite benches, mile posts, and a wooden foot path bridge over a stream were mentioned. The views along Mitchell Pond and the wildlife including beavers, blue herons, turtles, etc. make for a very pleasant ride along the trail. The corridor crosses a granite arch bridge 0.25 mile north of Roulston Road, the current south end of the paved trail. Larry Keniston made a point of hiking through brush to see the bridge, walk through it, and take several photos. The group cycled over the new Route 111 bridge into Salem to experience the 0.6 mile section that needs to be completed.
On the return ride on the Windham trail, Larry K. pointed out to Mark Samsel and Wayne Morris that an original stone retaining wall, while in excellent condition now, could be in danger from water run-off from the steep slope behind it. The original drainage of the slope as engineered by the railroad has likely been altered by the construction of a new home on top of the slope. Mark and Wayne appreciated Larry's observation and will check into the drainage issue. Larry mentioned that a similar situation on the Northern Rail Trail caused the retaining wall to collapse resulting in a very costly repair.
Upon returning to Windham Depot, the group was given a tour inside the reconditioned B&M caboose located between Depot Road and Frost Road. Mark and Wayne explained many of the interior fixtures including the functional wood-burning stove. Larry scrambled up to the seat in the cupola to look for hot boxes or fires started by embers from the coal-fired steam locomotive pulling the train. :
"The Kitchen" at Windham Depot: The group had lunch at this popular eatery and the only one at Windham Depot. Jon and Kay Normington, the proprietors, spoke with the group and expressed how their business has doubled since the Windham Rail Trail was built in 2006.
The group compared notes about what had been seen so far on the tour and reviewed maps for what was yet to be covered. The caravan was to travel north on Windham Road, Derry, to Bowers Road to view the culvert and south end of the newly-paved section of the Derry Rail Trail. Larry requested to bicycle from the restaurant to the Bowers Road crossing using public roads, not the unimproved section of the Derry trail. This he did while Jerry Moore drove the NH DOT van.
Bowers Road Crossing: The caravan stopped to inspect the six-foot diameter culvert under Bowers Road and take photos. The newly-paved rail trail ends with an incline up to Bowers Road on the north side. Work is planned to allow snowmobilers and mountain bikers to leave the paved trail and pass through the culvert to the unimproved trail leading to Windham.
Larry made a point to cycle through the culvert on his mountain bike. While possible with such a bicycle and an adventuresome rider, most rail trail users would not ride through a six-foot diameter pipe about 60 feet long. Larry then loaded his bike into the NH DOT van for a ride to the next stopping point.
Downtown Derry, Municipal Building: From the public and free parking lot, the group cycled the entire length of the paved Derry Rail Trail. The corridor near the Municipal Building is effectively a wide brick sidewalk which then crosses Manning Street for a designated bike lane heading toward Hood Park and Londonderry. The group noted this restricted area but did not attempt to ride north from the Municipal Building.
Heading south on the Derry Rail Trail, cyclists must ride on the sidewalk adjacent to the Depot Steakhouse or their parking lot to get back onto the designated and separate trail. Better passage is suggested through this area to avoid hitting Steakhouse customers walking on the sidewalk or stepping out the restaurant door onto the sidewalk. The original paved rail section from Broadway (Route 102) south to Kendall Pond Road is 0.80 mile. Some maintenance work including trimming of brush was being performed along this section of the trail. Another granite arch called the "Lover's Leap Bridge" is crossed on this section, and Larry was determined to check it out from the bottom and take photos of his off-trail adventure into the brush.
The group then cycled along the newly-paved section for the 0.65 mile to the Bowers Road crossing. The base coat was applied on July 20 so the final grading of the edges had yet to be done. Even so, quite a few people were already seen using this new section. At Bowers Road, the group had a chance meeting with the Derry's Director of Public Works Mike Fowler and Highway Department Superintendent Alan Cote. They were inspecting the new pavement for the first time and again noted the restrictions associated with the six-foot diameter culvert. Also seen along this trail was Derry Bicycle Patrolman Mike Hughes. He expressed the same opinion as heard many times from other popular rail trail groups that with more use the trail becomes self-policing. Less graffiti and vandalism occurs when more people are using the facility. The group then cycled back to the Municipal Building and loaded their bicycles for the final planned leg of the tour by car to Londonderry.
Londonderry Exit 5 and Auburn Street Crossing: At this point only Dave Topham remained with Larry Keniston and Jerry Moore. The much-discussed Verani Way, Independence Drive, and the two new bridges being built for the "Recreational Trail" under I-93 were reviewed and photographed. Plans to maintain an off-road rail trail south of the immediate Exit 5 crossing are being developed by NH DOT Highway Design per the meeting held with Project Manager Pete Stamnas and others on July 9.
The group then drove to the Exit 5 Park and Ride lot to view the corridor on the westerly side of I-93. The corridor crosses to the north side of the parking lot and has been graded and grassed-over so that is it hardly recognizable as a trail. If not for the orange AT&T fiber optic cable Dig-Safe flags every 30 feet or so, no one would know the corridor exists. There was no obvious connection for future trail users to access the Exit 5 Park and Ride lot. While the Right of Way (ROW) has obviously been preserved, a meaningful connection must be built from the rail trail to the Park and Ride terminal.
This stop concluded the planned tour of the M&L corridor from Salem to Londonderry. However, John Daley called Dave T. via cell and offered to return to the group in order to show more of the M&L corridor leading to North Londonderry and Manchester. Larry and Jerry agreed to accept John's offer so the tour continued.
North Londonderry School: Dr. John Daley had his medical office in the Derry area some years ago. He would often run on the M&L corridor at lunch time before the trail was overgrown and his practice moved to a new location. As such, he is very familiar with the corridor in Derry and the surrounding areas.
After pointing out the gated but overgrown corridor to the west of Symmes Drive and the grassed-over trail, John led Larry, Jerry, and Dave to the North Londonderry School parking lot. By taking side roads John was able to show two additional points where the rail corridor crossed these roads although the trail is not useable since it is overgrown. From the school, John, Larry, and Dave hiked the corridor westerly crossing Mammoth Road (Route 128). Landmarks adjacent to the corridor in North Londonderry were explained by John. He also pointed out the former trolley car line, part of which is used as a muddy road. The informative but unexpected hike of about 20 minutes prompted more questions and interest in the M&L corridor including how it will bypass the Manchester Regional Airport at some point in the future.
The entire tour from Salem to North Londonderry took about seven hours ending at 4:30 PM. BWA-NH wishes to thank all participants as a lot was seen and learned.
Digital photos taken during the tour by Matt Caron, Larry Keniston, Jerry Moore, and Dave Topham will be available for joint review and any possible future use to promote the Salem to Londonderry rail trail project. In addition, Larry suggested that another tour be scheduled for late August or September to view areas in Derry and Londonderry not covered on July 22 and to further explore connectivity north of the Exit 5 Park and Ride terminal. John Daley would like to be the tour coordinator and suggested several Wednesday dates. Members of the various rail trail groups will work with John and NH DOT to schedule a date to obtain maximum participation.
Notes from this M&L corridor four-town tour will be included in a major staff presentation to NH DOT Directors by Larry Keniston and Jerry Moore on August 6. The Northern Rail Trail through Andover NH and the East Coast Greenway through the Hamptons as also toured by Larry will be part of the presentation.
Stay tuned for more interesting developments as rail trails in New Hampshire continue to receive more use and positive press.
"Working together works!"
Notes compiled by: