Trail designer sets his sights on Franconia

Special to the Union Leader
November 16. 2017 3:06AM

The town of Franconia used grant funds this year to make a section of the Gale River trail in Fox Hill Park more accessible for a variety of uses. (Meghan McCarthy McPhaul PHOTO)

FRANCONIA — John Morton has designed trails in 28 states and in countries as varied as China and Scotland, but this small town in the White Mountains had the former Olympian and Vermont-based trail builder speaking enthusiastically Tuesday night about the possibility of a well-crafted trails network here.

“This is one of the most exciting projects in terms of potential,” Morton told about 70 people gathered at the Franconia Town Hall for an informational meeting.

A local grassroots group called the Friends of Profile Trails has enticed Morton to help develop a master trails plan for the region, extending from Franconia to several neighboring towns and tying together existing trails and newly developed paths.

Assembled early this year, the Friends of Profile Trails has a mission of fostering healthy lifestyles by developing and maintaining non-motorized trails in the region north of Franconia Notch, and a vision of creating a network of trails that will provide safe access to schools, town centers, inns and restaurants, as well as outdoor recreational areas.

The group, which has so far raised about $5,000 in grants and donations, is working to design and conduct feasibility studies of two new trails: a 1-mile path running alongside the Ham Branch of the Gale River and Route 116 to the village center, and a longer trail branching from the regional Profile School to other trail networks and the towns of Franconia and Bethlehem.

“Any time we want to use local trails, we have to drive there” from the school, said Profile’s physical education teacher Angela Figallo McShane, a member of the trails group. “It would be great if we could have a trail right from school.”

That, she said, would not only encourage more recreational opportunities for students and other community members, but would also allow students to safely bike to and from school. That’s a concept Franconia Selectman Jill Brewer, another founding member of the group, is following in her effort to create and fund (through grants) the mile-long Bickford Trail into town, which would allow non-motorized transportation without the danger of walking or biking alongside vehicular traffic.

Tuesday’s meeting drew interested community members and several local business owners. Also in attendance were Director of State Parks and Recreation Phil Bryce, Franconia Notch State Park General Manager John DeVivo, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests Vice President for Policy and Reservation Stewardship Will Abbott, and the White Mountain National Forest Pemigewasset Ranger District’s District Trails Manager Jody Chinchen.

Other founding members of Friends of Profile Trails were also at the meeting, including Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust (ACT) Executive Director Rebecca Brown and Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country (ASPNC) Executive Director Sandy Olney.

All have a vested interest in any future trail development. The 400-acre Lafayette Brook property acquired by Franconia Notch State Park last year borders recently acquired town property and was identified by Chris Nicodemus, president of Friends of Profile Trails, as an area for potential future trail development. A trail from Profile School might cross property at The Rocks Estate, owned by the Forest Society. There are several trails — both legal and clandestinely cut — established on Forest Service land in the Easton Valley.

ACT has developed a trails network on its Cooley-Jericho Community Forest, an 850-acre parcel conserved by the towns of Landaff, Easton, Sugar Hill, and Franconia. ACT is also developing a master conservation plan for the region. ASPCN provides year-round outdoor recreational opportunities to residents with various disabilities.

Both ACT and ASPNC are partnering with Friends of Profile Trails in its master planning endeavor, as is the Franconia Area Chapter of the New England Mountain Biking Association (FA-NEMBA), established about two years ago.

“You’ve got to have a good, solid sense of what you want,” Morton said of creating a master trails plan. “It ends up being a fairly complicated puzzle to weave together.”

Complications include working through the processes established for use of National Forest and state park lands, working with private landowners to gain permission to maintain trails on their properties, and ensuring environmental sustainability on wetlands and other sensitive issues.

Nicodemus said Thetford Center, Vermont-based Morton Trails is helping with the initial work of developing the master trails plan and feasibility for the two highlighted trails.

“They’re doing this with a small retainer to help us build the energy we need,” he said.

Nicodemus and other speakers Tuesday night focused on the potential to build positive momentum in a community that has in recent months seen its long-established ski shop and one of three eateries close in its small downtown.

Creating better accessibility to businesses and community centers, enhancing and connecting the recreational opportunities already established in the region, and providing additional incentive for visitors to explore the area are at the core of the trails movement.

“The future is ours,” Nicodemus said. “We have to be looking toward opportunity and how to improve our vitality. The old model for [business] may not work anymore, but there will be a new model. We have to figure out how to revitalize our town, because it’s an incredible place.”

Meghan McCarthy McPhaul writes Winter Notes, which appears in Friday’s Union Leader during the ski season.


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