Selectmen Put Brakes on Rail Trail Proposal

Officials want to talk to snowmobilers before moving idea ahead

Conway Daily Sun

May 28, 2014

CONWAY A group of outdoor enthusiasts asked selectmen to endorse their plan to create a non-motorized recreation path on the Mountain Division Railroad corridor which runs through town and would connect Intervale to Fryeburg. Selectmen decided to hold off until they could hear from snowmobilers who could possibly be impacted.

The proposed rec path would be located on state owned land. Chris Meier, of the Mount Washington Valley Trails Association, approached selectmen Tuesday night to ask the board to send the State of New Hampshire Department of Transportation a letter that says the selectmen would be interested in pursuing the project. Under the committee's proposal, the nonprofit Mount Washington Valley Trails Association would be responsible for designing, constructing, maintaining and policing the trail.

"The concept is to have this rec path as kind of a backbone for a larger trail network of on and off road but non-motorized trails throughout Conway," said Meier. "When I say non-motorized, some trails already have snowmobile use on (them). Where that's accepted by DOT already, we allow for snowmobile access but were not intending to have a snowmobile trail. This is generally considered to be non-motorized."
Town Manager Earl Sires explained the purpose of the letter to selectmen.  "This is really a letter saying to DOT saying we want to start negotiating an agreement," said Sires. "This isn't signing an agreement."
The impact on snowmobilers could be worked out, said Sires.

Selectman Mike DiGregorio insisted that the snowmobile community needs to be a part of the discussion before he can make up his mind. "I don't want to make it sound like I don't support what you are trying to do," said DiGregorio. "My issue is I want to make sure the snowmobile people are also represented in any future decisions here."

From near the Bartlett town line, the trail would start around Dinsmore Road in Intervale, head through Whitaker Woods, down the North-South Road along the railroad tracks running parallel to Route 16 into Redstone along Eastman Road, through East Conway mostly parallel to East Main Street and to the Fryeburg Welcome center.

Meier explained the trail creation process would begin with the town's endorsement. Meier said the trails association is a "great" group.  "We're moving along, with the town's approval and sign off, we are ready to get going if the town wants to do it," said Meier.  Selectman Stacy Sand said the economic impact of this project would be be great.  "It's a brand new, different form of recreation than what we provide already," said Sand adding Conway could be a destination for family bike trips and the trail could also reduce commuter traffic.  But DiGregorio questioned why the letter seems to exclude snowmobiles when snowmobiles would bring in a massive amount of revenue.

Meier replied DOT's rail corridor program is for non motorized uses.  "We cannot expand motorized use but we can allow motorized use on this trail where DOT already has leases," said Meier. "In terms of this rail trail agreement, they only accept rail trail agreements with non motorized use."  Meier added snowmobile clubs could contract with the State of New Hampshire separately.  "If the snowmobile clubs wanted to expand the use, it would be up to them to work through a separate division of DOT that does snowmobile leases," said Meier adding this proposal is just about a a recreation path. "It's not mutually exclusive."

Meier stressed that the land belongs to the State of New Hampshire.  "If they want to have use agreements with the snowmobilers as well as the non-motorized (groups) that's up to them," said Meier.
Selectman Mary Carey Seavey questioned a passage in the letter that said Conway Scenic Railroad's corridor lease agreement ends in December. The letter suggests the lease could be taken over from Conway Scenic Railroad so that the rail trail could be formed. It also suggests subleasing through Conway Scenic Railroad.

Meier replied DOT envisions that the trains and the recreation groups would share the same corridor.  "They would exist together," said Meier.  Meier added Conway Scenic Rail Road owner Russ Seybold told group members that he was concerned with safety and he would want the rec path built to state specifications.  Selectman Carl Thibodeau agreed with DiGregorio's stance on including snowmobilers.
"I'm not really happy with the verbiage in this letter of intent or whatever you want to refer to it as," said Thibodeau quoting a passage in the letter that says 'the rec path will be used for non-motorized recreation exclusively, except where NH DOT previously has an agreement with snowmobile clubs. This shall include, without limitation: running, walking, bicycling, rollerblading, roller skiing and cross-country skiing.'
Thibodeau says it appeared to him that snowmobiling clubs would be shut out from expanding on the trail.

"I'm 100 percent in favor of the concept but as Mike stated, the snowmobilers, I don't think, are getting a good shake out of this," said Thibodeau.  Chairman David Weathers and Sires suggested a joint meeting between the DOT, snowmobilers and rec path organizers.  Sand suggested that the snowmobilers have already been involved in the discussion and they know this is coming. She stressed that expanding motorized uses would require a separate application to the state.

"I don't understand (why) we can't at least sign the letter saying we'd like to talk about a rails to trails program," said Sand whom made a motion to have the letter signed.  DiGregorio replied that he'd rather table the issue till June 3.  "This is way too big," said DiGregorio who didn't want the board to make a mistake. "I'm not going to sign something that's advocating for getting rid of a group of people. I'm just not going to do it. It's (revenue from snowmobile riders) just way too much money into this area."  Selectmen decided not to make a decision other than to wait for snowmobiler input, which may possibly come at the June 3 meeting.

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