MANCHESTER, NH – I consider the path that runs behind the CVS on Mammoth Road to be my trail. It’s one I’ve walked many times, although after Thursday’s ribbon-cutting of the newly-dedicated two-mile stretch, it’s clear I’ve been away too long. The path is wider now and well-groomed with something I learned is called a stone-wearing course. (I call it gravel.) It now has a chain-link fence and crosswalks on both new ends of the two-mile stretch that can take you all the way to Auburn, if you like.
There are also new connections to the neighborhoods on either side of the path and bump-outs where you can sit a spell to commune with nature or take a breather.
Thursday’s brief ceremony was the realization of many years of dreaming and planning. Former city alderman Real Pinard was there to see it happen. I’m told he was a longtime advocate for the interlocking trail system that allows you to get there from here, no matter where your starting point is, or where you hope to end up along the 28-mile Rockingham Rail Trail. Pinard, who is 91, ditched his walker and made his way over to help hold the ribbon and take in the moment, which was gratifying for him and for his son, Joe, who was there to guide his father’s slow but steady steps.
If you are interested in some of the recent history of the blazing of this particular trail, watch the short video at the top of this story, where Parks & Recreation Chief Mark Gomez lays out the facts and figures.
On Thursday I had a chance to speak with KC Moran of the city’s Highway Division who served as project manager since joining the department 16 months ago.
I also chatted briefly with Jason Soukup, of Manchester Moves, who is deeply involved in creating community around such natural recreational trails all around the city. And I met Tammy Zamoyski, of Queen City Bike Collective, who says the group is interested in adding signage and bike fix-it stations along the trail, thanks to a grant they’ve received.
Jason Beaudet was also there representing CMA Engineers. He has seen the trail through, from design to construction, working with former Parks & Rec director Don Pinard, who has since retired, and Owen Friend-Gray, the city’s chief engineer. One of the design challenges, said Beaudet, was traversing the wetlands which take over most of the peripheral land between Hanover Street and Candia Road on the far side of the one-way streets that connect the two roads parallel to I-93.
There’s now some terra firma where once was swampy muck, and a lovely wooden fence that leads you to it, about 100 paces from the roadway.
“It was a big accomplishment and creates that connection for a great corridor,” Beaudet said. The construction allows for the water between the wetlands to equalize instead of seeping onto the trail. “From an environmental perspective there’s no impact to wildlife, and we were able to maintain the beautiful wetlands intact.”
For me, the most exciting part was seeing for myself. I hit the trail at Page Street across from Ted Herbert’s Music School, and in no time I was joined by a couple on bicycles, a man with a dog and two other lone hikers. As I approached one of my favorite landmarks, the circular bored tunnel that runs underneath I-93 and Route 101, I noticed the new crosswalk with a stop sign and flashing lights. Sure enough, a car stopped for me and I crossed into the tunnel with no problem. Ditto that on the other side.
If I could make any recommendation it would be to hire some local artist to zhuzh up the interior of the tunnel, and maybe even a motion-detector light or something, as it’s very dark in there, even with the sun blazing on either side.
According to TrailLink.com, a great site from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, you can walk yourself from Tarrytown Road, through the tunnel and over the swamp and keep on walking the Rockingham Rail Trail, through the parking lot at Lake Massabesic and all the way to Portsmouth, if you have the right shoes, or better yet, some wheels.
Years ago I covered the town of Derry, and would guess that it’s been a decade or so since the beautiful rail trail connecting Derry to Windham was completed.
After my walk I had to head downtown to see what was happening with the removal of the bathrooms from Veterans Park, a completely different kind of story but one that also needs to be told. In my mind, there is a connection there.
Our city as a whole is many things – it’s the state’s largest urban center. It’s a historic enclave that chronicles the rise of manufacturing in New Hampshire and which spurred economic development and incredible growth. It has, for centuries, drawn people from all over the world – leaders of industry and inventors. Prominent citizens, politicians, plebeians and paupers. Immigrants and refugees whose stories are separated only by time and circumstance. Our Queen City boasts palatial homes in the North End and homeless encampments along the river. Manchester has suffered, along with the rest of the country, through war time and economic downturns. But like every other major city in America, it is revived when the people who call it home invest their time and their treasure in it.
For all those who have rolled up their sleeves to focus on connecting our community – an ongoing project with many more miles yet to go – I say thank you. Thank you to Real Pinard and every mayor and alderman and city planner who pushed the needle and allocated resources; thank you, private citizens and businesses and volunteers, who understand a city is a living, breathing investment in the past, present and future.
Your collective vision continues to take shape and it looks and feels like progress.