Everyone likes grander vision for WOW Trail at Lakeport Square, but who will pay for it?


The Laconia Daily Sun

Published: 01-26-2023 5:48 PM

LACONIA — There are plans well underway to work on the Lakeport end of the WOW Trail. Those plans call for a new trail, known as the Opechee Loop, to spur from Lakeport Square, follow Elm Street and ultimately circle Lake Opechee to rejoin the WOW Trail downtown.

But there’s a grander vision of what could happen at Lakeport, one that could make it a more attractive trailhead for people accessing the trail or for trail users to pause in the middle of their walk or bike ride.

The alternative vision, presented in the form of a rendering, was suggested late last year by Paugus-Elm Development, the company owned by developer Scott Everett. The other major players in this development, City Manager Kirk Beattie and WOW Trail President Allan Beetle, are all in favor of the concept. What they don’t agree on, though, is who should lead the project, and assume funding responsibility.

Tim-James Everett, senior adviser for Paugus-Elm, said the idea is to maximize the potential of the trail, “to pull the four corners of Lakeport together and make that a focal point of the WOW Trail.” The concept, as illustrated in the rendering, includes a covered gazebo, bike racks, benches and a broad cobblestone walkway wide enough for two directions of travel, divided by a line of shade trees.

“It’s going to take a lot of effort, some work with the WOW Trail to allocate some funds to make that happen,” he said.

Beetle said the Opechee Loop is a concept the WOW Trail presented to city council more than a year ago, to give the 2.1-mile rail trail that goes from Belmont to Lakeport another pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly option, with possible loops through the State School property and Ahern Park.

“It would make it easier for neighborhoods, residents and visitors to access downtown, Lakeport, parks and beaches along the way. That’s what the Opechee Loop would try to accomplish,” Beetle said.

The first realization of that concept is to construct a new section from Lakeport Square, where the WOW Trail currently ends, across the Elm Street bridge, to the intersection of Franklin Street — a total distance of about two-tenths of a mile.

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“Our first plan would be to get at least an 8-foot extension of that sidewalk to get on and off the WOW Trail. Then, about three or four months ago, Scott asked the WOW Trail people to get together. He unveiled a more ambitious but similar intent, to make a more beautiful bicycle and pedestrian access point,” Beetle said. He said he liked what Everett had in mind.

“It’s more of a promenade; it’s spectacular. It would be a beautiful addition to Lakeport and to adjacent neighborhoods, getting in and out of Lakeport on a bike. We’re all for it; the only question is now how to fund that project. It’s beyond the funding that we were able to secure for that project.”

Beetle said his organization has raised about $450,000 for the project as the WOW Trail had initially planned it. That figure includes county and federal grants, as well as donations and fundraising. Beetle said the organization would contribute those funds to a more ambitious design, but he said Everett’s vision, which would include relocation of utilities and construction of a new retaining wall, would likely cost more than double what he has on hand.

“The WOW Trail does not have the funds to do it. We’re sitting on the sidelines at the moment,” Beetle said, though he added that his organization would help by looking for more grant funding.

“But this is a major project on city property and needs to be led by the city. We will support them in any way that we can.”

Tim-James Everett, in a follow-up email, clarified that Paugus-Elm’s intent by sharing the rendering was “to show how nice that section of the trail could be if everyone teamed up to make it happen and make Lakeport Square really shine.” He said the development company would donate some land, necessary to widen the trail as shown in the renderings.

“The financial piece would have to be figured out by all parties involved (city, WOW organization, others in the community who see value with this WOW focal point) either through city financial support, grants, private donations, fundraisers or a combination of those endeavors.”

He wrote that the renderings were created “because sometimes a picture can be worth a thousand words … not because we want to underwrite that piece of the trail or take the lead, just want to be a constructive member of a team that supports it, if there is enough interest from all constituents.”

Beattie said the city is planning to assist the WOW Trail in its Lakeport development, and is also aware of the residential and commercial projects Paugus-Elm is pursuing.

“The city’s position is that whatever we do for work in that area regarding the WOW Trail will be in cooperation with Mr. Everett’s plans, and his plans will be in cooperation with the city and WOW Trail,” Beattie said. “His work is on private land, and ours is on city-owned property. We do not want these projects to be built in a silo, rather, we want to work together to make sure that city/grant funds are being spent as intended and with the best final project possible.”

Though it isn’t clear who will take the reins for a grander Lakeport Square, Beattie expressed optimism that it would work itself out.

“The city, WOW Trail representatives and Mr. Everett have been communicating, and feel that we are all headed in the same direction,” Beattie said.

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