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Outdoor adventures: Chugging along between Wolfeboro and Wakefield

  • A cyclist pedals a piece of the Cotton Valley Rail Trail. The rail trail extends 12 miles between Wolfeboro and Wakefield. Marty Basch / For the Monitor



For the Monitor
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It’s taken some time to complete the rail trail, but the wait was worth it.

The southern Carroll County trail between Wolfeboro and Wakefield near the Maine border is a 12-mile multi-use wander along water and through the woods.

Passing through the town of Brookfield, the wonderful largely hard-packed way is awash in railroad history and natural splendor as it takes riders between Wolfeboro’s old railroad station on Depot Street now housing the chamber of commerce across from Lake Winnipesaukee’s Back Bay in the east to the refurbished railroad turntable in Sanbornville’s Turntable Park to the west.

The Wolfeboro-to-Wakefield journey is actually two trails: a short spin on the Bridge Falls Path from downtown Wolfeboro to the long Cotton Valley Rail Trail.

The railroad heritage is evident on many sections of the pathway where cyclists ride narrowly between the track’s standard gauge irons, a breadth of 4 feet, 8½ inches, and also crossing wooden platforms to get over the old Wolfeboro Railroad track as the path goes on both sides.

The Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club, which helps maintain the corridor, also has a presence with its club headquarters at Fernald Station on Route 109. Plus, the trail is unique in that railcars (putt-putts) also use portions of it. Signs show that.

The trail is sandwiched with benches, picnic tables, bridges over brooks and rest rooms in between towns with a menu of restaurants for hungry riders. A multitude of parking options allows approaching the ride from various points.

On a recent morning with temperatures in the high 70s, Wolfeboro, the “Oldest Summer Resort in America” was bustling. Runners, walkers and cyclists shared the way along the placid edge of Back Bay and by the two causeways on the western edges of Crescent Lake and Lake Wentworth, mountains dotting the Lakes Region scenes.

The path undergoes personality changes including dirt, gravel, on the track, wide, narrow and along the track. It also provides access to a couple of Wolfeboro Center Street museums helping to make the trail an all-day outing if desired: the World War II-focused Wright Museum and the wooden-centric New Hampshire Boat Museum. Swim in Lake Wentworth from trailside Albee Beach.

At 3 miles, Fernald Station was reached with its kiosk and memorabilia. Just east, emerging mountain bike singletrack was noticed off the path that was now less crowded with a more remote feeling.

Cotton Valley, at 6 miles, had welcoming picnic tables and wild strawberries to pick. The last time my wife Jan and I were there several years ago, the ride ended, the railroad ties still there. Now no more.

Between 2013 and 2017 under the eyes of New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, the last miles were completed. A 1¾-mile stretch at the eastern end between Wakefield and Brookfield was done in 2013-14 followed by nearly 2 miles in 2016. The last stretch of 1.7 miles was finished last year. The Cotton Valley Trail Committee, a group from the three towns, was also instrumental in the trail’s development.

East of Cotton Valley, the overhead shaded canopy was largely replaced by open sky, meadows, song birds and belching frogs amidst cat-o’-nine tails. Snowmobile signs (corridors 22 and 26) pointed the way. New timber bridges were crossed. Pleasantly shaded Hobo Junction by cooling Sadies Pool had appreciated benches. Picnic tables followed as did Brookfield’s Pike Mill Dam, a 200 feet long, 8 feet high and 8 feet thick wall built around 1828 and named after “clothier” Robert Pike who settled in the town in 1785.

The eastern end had a series of hills – one is conveniently bypassed by singletrack – that might surprise some, before crossing Route 16 by the Miss Wakefield Diner and into the village of Sanbornville, the terminus on High Street.

The trail wasn’t without its pot holes, though. Use care while crossing Route 16 and Wolfeboro’s Center Street. Those wooden platforms over the tracks, perhaps New Hampshire’s version of cattle guards, can unnerve some and wet rails may pose a hazard if crossed diagonally. The narrow on-track sections call for common sense and patience while passing, particularly on the western end with generations of families using the pathway. A simple, “Behind you, passing on your left,” helps. Cyclists traveling in opposite directions may have to decide who yields in that situation.

Otherwise, take a ride on the splendid Cotton Valley Rail Trail.