Ex-Wilmot employee looks to discrimination claim

By Ray Carbone

WILMOT – One of the four employees who recently resigned from the town’s employ said that she planned to file a complaint with the NH Commission on Human Rights Commission over alleged health-related discrimination.

In her resignation letter submitted to the board of selectmen dated Aug. 22, Nicole (Nikki) Arsenault, who served as an administrative assistant and land/property use assistant, wrote that she was in the process of submitting a discrimination complaint with the state agency. She said it was related to how she felt she was treated by Nancy Bates, the town administrator, after missing time due to an illness.

‘There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office…’

Nicole Arsenault, former town employee

“I’ve missed several days of work over the past month,” the letter reads. “I have become aware that I am being treated differently due to the fact that Ms. Bates is ‘angry’ with me when I miss work due to illness.”

In a note attached to the letter, Arsenault recorded discussing the issue in an April meeting with Bates. At that time, the assistant wrote, Bates admitted to being angry about the missed hours, adding that it was “not right, but that’s how she (Bates) felt.”

Arsenault’s letter stated that she was resigning because she’d recently approached the town administrator again about the perceived problem, but Bates denied ever admitted that she was angry.

“It was my mistake to not speak up sooner for myself and for those around me, to demand that inappropriate behavior be stopped,” Arsenault wrote to the three-member board of selectmen.

“There is bullying, gossiping, gaslighting, abuse of power and double standards enforcing town policy going on in this office by the town administrator and it is unacceptable,” she added.

At the September 5 selectmen’s meeting, Rhonda Gauthier, the long-time town clerk/tax collector, and her assistant, Kathy LaVallee, announced that they were resigning their positions effective Dec. 31. In her resignation letter to the board, Gauthier wrote that Bates “fired or bullied all employees.”

But Nick Brodich, chairman of the selectmen, has said that although the board was aware of tensions between Gauthier and Bates, it didn’t feel that they were severe enough to take action.

In a response letter to Gauthier, the selectmen criticized her brief appearance at the Sept. 5 meeting as lacking “substance.” It also said that the charges directed at both Bates and the board (for allegedly ignoring ongoing problems) were “serious and hurtful,” and that, by refusing to meet with the board and Bates, Gauthier’s actions were “as disrespectful as cowardly… (and) completely unbecoming an elected town official.”

Late last week, Gauthier said, “I really want to move on,” adding that “Nancy (Bates) did many little things over a period of time… (but) I resigned because I was tired of seeing it happen to other and nothing being said or done about it. I did not want to be part of that environment any longer.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

 

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Snowstorm brings down trees and wires, but not town workers

By Ray Carbone

The recent area snowstorm resulted in scores of downed wires and tress, power outages, road closures, cancelled school days and a marathon work session for some town employees in the Kearsarge/Sunapee region.

“It was a lot of snow,” said Dennis Pavlieck, Newbury’s town administrator, “but we’re used to a lot of snow. We’re New Hampshire folks!”

Snowfall totals ranged between 18 inches in Springfield to 4-to-5 inches in parts of Sutton and Warner. The snow was heavy and wet, pulling down trees and tree limbs and dropping power lines, which caused electrical outages all over the area.

‘My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community.’

– Dan Ruggles, chief of Sunapee’s all-volunteer fire dept.

Eversource, the company that services most of the local area, reported close to 100,000 outages around the state between Monday evening (Nov. 22) when the storm began and early Wednesday evening (Nov. 24); more than 60 percent of those were north and west of Concord, an area that includes many Kearsarge/Sunapee towns, explained William Hinkle, a spokesman for the power company. By Friday afternoon (Nov. 30), no local outages were reported.

Officials with the Kearsarge Regional School District said that the towns hardest hit by the storm were in the district’s northernmost communities of Wilmot, Springfield and New London. All district schools were closed both Tuesday and Wednesday, due to poor road conditions and power outages. On Wednesday, electric power was out at the district’s elementary school in Bradford.

During the height of the storm, reports indicated that virtually all of New London and a major section of Wilmot were without electricity.

The storm generally dumped more snow than was predicted, making for long day for public works and safety staffs in local towns.

“Our shift started on Monday night at 9 p.m., and went right through to 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” said Bob Harrington, public works director for New London.

Officials in Newbury and other local towns reported similar long hours for their road crews.

“The town of Sunapee received about 12 inches of snow that was mixed with rain,” said David Cahill, that town’s police chief. “We had at one point eight roads closed due to wires and trees.”

Jim Bingham, Warner’s town administrator, said four roads in his town were inaccessible for several hours and Pixie Hill, the town clerk/tax collector in Springfield, reported a section of Rte. 114, the town’s main thoroughfare, was closed until late Wednesday morning.

Cal Prussman, Newbury’s highway administrator, said that Stoney Brook Road was closed for most of Tuesday, and that Bowles Road was closed to through traffic for several days. In addition, the 50-plus homes on Bay Point Road, a dead end off the Sunapee State Beach access road, were temporarily cut off from the rest of the town on Tuesday until storm damage could be cleared.

Harrington echoed the thoughts of several town public work managers throughout the area, commending the work of his staff while thanking local police and fire departments for their assistance in the emergency.

Dan Ruggles, Sunapee’s fire chief, said his volunteer department responded to 29 calls of wires down, trees on wires, blown transformers, car accidents and providing support for the town’s highway department clearing damage across roads between Monday night and Tuesday evening.

“My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community,” he added.

Ruggles and Cahill reported that Sunapee opened its safety service building as a warming station during the storm. “As a result, we did see a couple of residents take advantage of the safety service building,” Cahill said.

Throughout the storm and its aftermath, police officers did welfare checks on elderly folks and others who could be vulnerable during the outages, the police chief said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

NH Fish and Game Dept. wants to hold onto Wild Goose site on Lake Sunapee

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – At a public meeting last week, Glenn Normandeau, the executive director of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said that his office is looking at ways to leverage the state-owned Wild Goose property in Newbury in order to develop a public boat launch site on Lake Sunapee – even if Wild Goose is not where the facility is located.

Fish and game still prefers building its required launch on the Wild Goose land. However the agency is considering alternatives, including selling the land and purchasing another waterfront lot, or entering into an agreement with one or more local towns that would allow the pubic to use their municipally-owned launch sites.

Normandeau made his remarks to other members of the state’s 12-member Council on Resources and Development (CORD), which is part of the state’s office of strategic initiatives, at a meeting in the state’s department of education building on Thursday, Nov. 8. CORD is charged with facilitating interagency communications and cooperation relating to environmental, natural resources and growth management issues.

‘We cannot commit to any specific use or investments at this time, especially considering that we have tens of millions of deferred maintenance across the (state’s) parks system.’

– Sarah L. Stewart, commissioner of NH dept. of natural & cultural resources

At the meeting, Normandeau outlined the 20-years-plus history of his department’s efforts to provide a required public access facility for Lake Sunapee boaters, including two cases decided by the NH Supreme Court and numerous hearings before boards associated with the state’s department of environmental services.

“This (Wild Goose) project has been to CORD twice in the past, and twice CORD voted to support putting our boat ramp sites there,” the director said. “The property was purchased for this purpose, given to this agency for this purpose. And I have directions from both our commission, in a 11-0 vote, and the public water access advisory board, in a 9-1 vote, to try to retain control of the property.”

Fish and game’s management of the Wild Goose site is in now question after the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Development Commission, appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, issued a report recommending that the Newbury land be abandoned as a possible launch site and alternative uses for the land be considered. (One suggestion is that it be made into a state park controlled by the state’s department of natural and cultural resources.)

“We wish to retain the property, at the very least, pending an alternative site being found,” Normandeau told his fellow CORE members. “It would be unprecedented to removed a property from one agency that wants to retain it and give it to another. And, I would not consider that a great precedent… We have a strong feeling that it should not be transferred to another agency.”

Instead, the director said that the land could provide needed financial resources.

“We might consider going to the legislature to see if we can sell the property at fair market value and use the money as a start to getting the money we’d need,” to purchase an alternative piece of waterfront land and/or to cover cost related to developing a new launch facility, Normandeau explained.

(Typically, state-owned land deemed surplus by one department is transferred to another. The director said the state officially estimates that the 3.1-acre Wild Goose property would be worth $1.2-million on the open market.)

Normandeau also noted that because Wild Goose is known to be in the state’s public access land inventory, it serves to encourage local towns to consider allowing the public to use their town-operated launch sites. “It would behoove us to keep that property in the access program,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Sarah L. Stewart, the commissioner of the department of natural and cultural resources, said that while her agency had never requested management of the Wild Goose land, it would be obligated by statute to accept it if it were to be offered.

“It is important for me to include in our comments that developing, maintaining, managing and staffing property takes resources,” Stewart added. “We cannot commit to any specific use or investments at this time, especially considering that we have tens of millions of deferred maintenance across the parks system.”

CORD’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled for January 10. At that time, the committee is expected to review what could be next step regarding the Wild Goose land.

This story originally appeared  in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018.

 

Public trust is central to new Sunapee access legal appeal

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – A group of sports enthusiasts’ organizations and interested private citizens have filed a new appeal to the state’s decision to deny a wetlands building permit that would have allowed the construction of a public boat access facility on Lake Sunapee.

In papers submitted to the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport on Oct. 10, William Howard Dunn, the attorney representing the groups, reaches back to the English common law that is the basis for the American judicial system and even ancient Roman law.

Those systems support the idea that some properties – like New Hampshire’s lakes – are held in a “pubic trust” by the state government. “(As) stewards of public waters, the state safeguards the right to use and enjoy public waters,” he quotes from a previous case; Dunn also notes state statues that direct the state to “control the use of public waters and the adjacent shoreline for the greatest public benefit.”

The attorney quotes from a 60-year-old Gilmanton lawsuit… and from  a California case that found that members of the public ‘have standing to sue to protect the public trust.’

The issue of public access to Sunapee has been debated for more than 20 years. For some time, the state ‘s department of environmental services (DES) and its fish and game departments sought to build a facility to comply with the legal mandate that reasonable access be available to everyone. In 1990 the state purchased the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury and developed plans to construct a facility there.

But legal challenges from both the town and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association delayed the project for years. The opponents say there is sufficient public access to the lake (although not a state-owned/operated facility), and that dangerous traffic problems on Rte. 103 would result from using the Wild Goose land.

After years of administrative, legislative and court-related wrangling, it looked like the Wild Goose site would be developed. Then Gov. Chris Sununu announced last year that he was pulling the plug on the project because it had lingered unfinished for so long, causing widespread discord in the community. The move was opposed by the NH fish and game department but, not long afterwards, the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) denied a request from fish and game official to extend it wetlands building permit for the site; for years, the five-year building allowance had been approved several times previously.

The local sport organizations (including the Sullivan County Sportsmen, the NH Bass Federation and the Mountain View Gun Club) joined with Gary Clark, author of The New Hampshire Fishing Guide, and others asking the DES to reconsider its ruling. But an officer with the DES’s wetlands board dismissed their appeal, stating that the groups lacked legal standing to question the decision.

Last August, Dunn filed the sports groups’ initial request, asking the court to overturn the state’s actions and force it to move ahead with building a public access facility on the Wild Goose land. At that time, he argued principally that the state had acted incorrectly and in opposition to its own legal responsibilities, bowing to political pressure.

In his latest filing, Dunn focuses more on the state’s actions based on long-standing legal precedents, as well as its own laws and regulations.

“By law, the nature of these things (that) are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea” are part of the public trust, he writes, quoting from a lawsuit filed by the National Audubon Society in California in 1983.

“This rule, that such land are held by the state in trust for the public at large applies to all states, as it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Dunn adds. “New Hampshire came to hold the public trust in its waters and shoreline when it joined the union” (in 1776).

The attorney also quotes from a 60-year-old lawsuit filed in Gilmanton to illustrate that New Hampshire courts have recognized that common law rights are applicable to “private individuals.” The California case also found that members of the public “have standing to sue to protect the public trust.”

“The denial of the (wetlands building) extension is a breach of trust by the public trust,” Dunn concludes. “By refusing to grant the wetlands permit, the (state) has violated its own duty under, not just under (state) law but also under common law under the public trust doctrine.”

The legal filing asks the court to order the DES to grant the fish and game’s wetlands building permit extension to August 28, 2022, and to allow the sportsmen organizations to continue to be considered in future actions under the “public trust” doctrine.

In response, DES’s legal team did not object to the new filing, but it argued that the case had already been decided. In addition, the group said that it would appeal the court’s decision if the ruling goes against the agency.

At this time, there’s no indication when the court will issue its final ruling.

This story originally ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

 

 

Lawsuit against Bradford, employees could take some time

PHOTO: The former Candlelight Inn in Bradford village has reopened as the Bradford Village Inn, but it cannot operate legally as a lodging establishment until a lawsuit filed by the owner against the town is resolved. (Ray Carbone/photo)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – A local innkeeper’s lawsuit against the town and two local officials may not be resolved for more than a year, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Concord.

In March, Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane, sued the Town of Bradford, as well as Mark Goldberg, chief of the fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, for allegedly conspiring against his efforts to re-open the 121-year-old lodging facility after he purchased in August 2014. Court papers filed in July indicate that a jury trial would likely last about three or four days’ but a tentative start date is still about one year away, on August 20, 1019.

In separate documents, both (employees) deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

Earlier this month, Judge Andrea K. Johnstone, who is presiding over the case, asked the two sides to consider mediation to resolve their dispute. “By April 1, 2019, the parties shall inform the court whether they intend to mediate,” she wrote.

Rick Lehmann, the attorney representing Torro, said he’s preparing for a trial by jury but he’s open to discussions with lawyers representing the other sides. “If they want to talk, we’ll talk,” he said.

Torro claims that Goldberg and Gordon, who were romantically involved, used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the selectmen to withhold property tax abatements and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. He’s asking for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages.

In court paperwork filed earlier this summer, the attorneys representing the town and the two employees disputed the innkeeper’s claims.

In separate documents, both Goldberg and Gordon deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

“(Goldberg) denies that he attempted to destroy (Torro’s) business prospect,” the fire chief’s document reads. “(Goldberg) notes that he never ran the Candlelight Inn (the former name of the property),” as charged by the current property owner.

In her court response, Gordon refutes Torro’s claim that she had to sell the Candlelight Inn because she was not a successful business owner, and that she and Goldberg wanted Torro to also fail in the hopes of her eventually regaining the property.

In the town’s court paperwork, officials deny that their employees treated Torro differently than other property owners regarding his request for a fire permit and tax abatements. “The abatement application could not be granted for the 2014 tax year because the application was filed too late,” the town attorneys claim. “An abatement could not be granted (for the 2015 tax year) because the application was submitted too early.”

The town’s legal response also questions Torro’s arguments regarding the reasons for any alleged unfair treatment by Goldberg and Gordon. “While the town notes that it lacks information regarding the alleged subjective motivation of Goldberg and Gordon describe, it disputes the characterization of their actions as well was (Torro’s) allegation that there was a conspiracy, discrimination and/or abuse of government power and influence.”

This story first ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on August 28, 2018.

Vail to take over New Hampshire resort

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY, N.H. – The public meeting held at the Sunapee Lodge on the Mount Sunapee Resort property last week was much less contentious than a similar one held in the same building last year.

At the earlier gathering, more than 100 people came to the state’s Department of National and Cultural Resources (DNCR) meeting to voice their opposition to the transfer of the resort’s recreational lease to Och-Ziff Real Estate. The multi-national alternative asset management firm had recently paid the federal government $413 million in fines, and supporters of the local resort were concerned that the organization would not manage the local property appropriately.

Things were much different last Wednesday, July 25, when an even larger crowd came together to voice their support to Sarah Stuart, the DNCR’s commissioner, for a proposal to turn Mount Sunapee’s lease and operating agreements over to Vail Resorts, operators of the famous Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado.

‘Candidly, Vail is a dream partner.’

Hessler Gates, Sunapee resident

The deal is part of an $82 million sales agreement that will also add Vermont’s Okemo Mountain resort and the Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado to the Vail, Colorado company. (Vail Resorts also owns/manages Stowe in Vermont; Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area; Wilmot in Wisconsin; After Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia; and Perisher in Australia.)

Tim and Diane Mueller, owners of the companies that have managed the local resort since 1998, told the crowd that if they could have chosen an organization to take over their enterprises, it would be the Vail group.

“Vail is clearly the leading ski operating company in the country, if not the world,” Tim Muerller said. “I’m glad we’re turning it over to them.”

The audience gave the Muellers an appreciative round of applause.

Speaking for the new managers, Pat Campbell, president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division, said her company is excited about its first business foray into New Hampshire and that it remains “incredibly passionate” about creating memorable resort experiences for visitors.

In addition, the company’s Epic Pass, which allows for unlimited skiing at all of its 14 resorts, will be available at Sunapee. (Vail owns and/or operates resorts throughout North America and Australia.)

Addressing concerns that Vail would push for more development at and around the Sunapee resort, Campbell said that her company has been divesting itself of properties that are primarily real estate and that it has no plans to move forward with either the West Bowl Expansion or any other development project in the area.

“Candidly, Vail is a dream partner,” Hessler Gates of Sunapee said in the public commentary portion of the meeting. “For the decision-makers, this should be an easy decision and I urge you to do it promptly.”

The majority of the speakers were in agreement with Gates, urging Commissioner Stuart and others involved in the transfer to approve it as quickly as possible.

Campbell said she’s hoping the transfer will be completed by Labor Day.

But some did express concerns.

A member of the New Hampshire Sierra Club repeated an earlier call for an independent audit of the resort’s finances, and encouraged the Vail team to maintain the four non-skiing trails on Mount Sunapee.

Another speaker asked how the Vail proposal had come forward so quickly and whether there is an appeal process if the state turns down its proposal.

Will Abbott of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said Vail Resorts could prove its intent to stay focused on recreation, rather than development, by permanently conserving 600 acres of land located in Goshen. The idea was heartily applauded by the audience.

Holly Flanders, a two-time Olympic and three-time World Cup alpine racer who grew up skiing and racing at Sunapee, said that from her current home in Park City, Utah, she’s become familiar with how the Vail company operates.

“Vail is a great ski operator, they invest in improvements,” she told the crowd.

“I tell you want I’ve seen,” she added. “Many local businesses are making more money. Property values are going up. The ski area is more crowded, so the roads are more crowded. And everything is more expensive – the hotels and restaurants.”

 

Photo: Breath -taking view of Lake Sunapee from the Mount Sunapee Resort, by Garrett Evans. Courtesy of Vail Resorts.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

Plans to abandon Wild Goose move ahead

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – State officials met with members of the public last week to hear their concerns about the recommendations of the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Development Commission announced earlier this year.

The commission’s final report suggests that the state abandon its long-delayed plan to create a state-owned and operated deep-water lake access facility at the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury, and look for alternative sites. It also recommends that parking at the Lake Sunapee State Beach be increased to allow for more use of the smaller, shallower launch there.

‘The issue is not public access. The issue is (the need for) increased parking.’

– June Fichter of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association

Last week’s hearing, held in Department of Revenue Administration building on Pleasant Street, was held before the Council on Resources and Development (CORD, part of the planning division of the state’s Office of Strategic Initiatives). CORD consists of 12 department heads who are charged with facilitating interagency communications and cooperation relating to environmental, natural resources and growth management issues. The commission’s report involves the fish and game department, which currently has jurisdiction over Wild Goose land, as well as the state’s division of parks that would take over the property and develop it for other recreational purposes.

About 20 people spoke to the council, and the arguments were familiar.

Opponents of the commission’s recommendations said that Wild Goose is the only viable site for a deep-water boat launch on the lake. Supporters point to serious traffic problems that would develop in Newbury.

June Fichter, the executive director of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, said her organization supports the commission’s recommendations because it puts the focus in the right place. “The issue is not public access,” she said, adding that boat traffic on Sunapee has increased about 270-percent over the last 16 years. “The issue is (the need for) increased parking.”

Gene Porter, a member of the state’s public water access advisory board and a representative of the state motorized boating population, said the commission’s report was “weakly reasoned.”

“These boaters, fishermen and water skiers want first-class access to Sunapee just as they have on Winnipesaukee and Squam,” he said.

CORD will hold its next meeting on September 13 when it will begins considering whether or not to accept the access commission’s recommendations.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.

 

 

 

Lake Sunapee access will be focus of hearing in Concord this week

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – The NH Office of Strategic Initiatives’ (OSI) Council on Resources and Development (CORD; part of OSI’s energy planning division) is scheduled to hold a public hearing this Thursday addressing the long-debated issue of public access to Lake Sunapee.

The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item.

The council will be discussing the recent report of the Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission issued in the spring. The 15-member commission, which was appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, recommended that the state abandon its original plans to build a mandated deep-water state-owned and managed public boat launch at the former Wild Goose campground area in Newbury. The report suggests that the 3-acre property be considered for other recreational uses, but made no specific recommendation about an alternative site for the boat launch.

CORD, which consists of representatives from 12 state agencies, was formed to provide a forum for interagency cooperation regarding environmental, natural resources and growth management issues and policies. The group is required to adhere to the state’s Smart Growth Policy, outlined in the 2016 Smart Growth Report.

Thursday’s hearing will be the first since the commission wrapped up its work several months ago. The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item; anyone wishing to present written comment must notify the OSI by emailing Michael A. Klass (michael.klass@osi.nh.gov) OSI’s principal planner, on or before Wednesday, July 11, at 4:30 p.m.

Klass, who joined the state agency in November, has worked as an private attorney dealing with land use, real estate development, property disputes and related litigation.

The meeting will take place in the NH Department of Revenue Administration’s training room at 109 Pleasant Street (Medical & Surgical Building) in Concord, Thursday at 1 p.m. The building is handicap accessible and, for security reasons, everyone attending must sign in and show a valid photo I.D. Driving directions are available at https://www.revenue.nh.gov/contact-us/documents/campus-map.pdf

More information about the hearing is available at https://www.nh.gov/osi/planning/programs/cord/index.htm, and questions can be addressed to Klass at 271-6651 or Micheel.klass@ois.nh.gov

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

 

Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

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