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Editorial: Follow the trail to a new Concord

Published: 8/21/2016 12:05:12 AM

There’s electricity and a spirit of camaraderie in the air in places where people partake of the outdoors.

Mountain ski towns have it. So do headwaters communities that draw anglers, kayakers and white-water rafters, and towns on the edge of wilderness.

State capitals, not so much.

Opportunities for outdoor recreation can change that, but they’re not always easy to come by.

The Merrimack River Greenway Trail, a plan to create a riverside path through Concord, has been in the works since the earliest days of this century. So has the grander plan to use abandoned railroad rights of way and other corridors to create a trail for nonmotorized vehicles that runs from the Massachusetts border north to Vermont. It’s time to make it happen.

Concord’s city council recently agreed to support federal grant requests of up to $800,000 by the Merrimack River Greenway Trail organization, the nonprofit trying to make the path a reality. It’s a smart investment.

Outdoor recreation creates economic opportunity, attracts the young and their families, allows those with mobility issues to enjoy the outdoors and improves community health. It is one of the amenities that make a place more attractive.

Particularly if the trail proponents succeed in connecting Concord to the Northern Rail Trail, which extends from Boscawen to Lebanon, the path could become a tourist draw that in winter could be used by cross-country skiers.

Vacationers, many of them families, spend a few thousand dollars to bike inn to inn on Vermont’s trails for a week. North of Concord, the website of the state’s trails bureau advertises a similar inn-to-inn bicycle tour for those with upscale tastes.

Reservations at the Lakes Region inns listed run from $200 to $350 per night per couple. A mature system, however, would appeal to all, from the bike and tent crowd to those on hostel, hotel or chateau budgets.

Amanda Grappone Osmer, owner of Grappone Automotive, is a savvy businesswoman and an outdoor enthusiast. She has kicked off the effort to raise the community’s matching share of the grants with a pledge to raise $50,000 to $100,000 in memory of her late brother, Greg Grappone. The rest of the community, from school kids with a spare dime to major employers, should join in.

The trail group has toiled away quietly for years and managed to win one grant and raise $300,000. It will begin work on a key portion of the trail, a boardwalk over part of the wetland between the cornfields across from downtown and Terrell Park on Manchester Street in the fall.

Completing the whole boardwalk, which will boast views of the State House and wildlife, will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

Once the downtown portion of the trail is completed, it can be connected to the 58-mile Northern Rail Trail, but that too will come at a cost.

Pan American Railways recently decided to abandon the little used run between Horseshoe Pond in Concord and Boscawen. The state has the right of first refusal on the corridor, and the purchase is too important to pass up. Pan Am has a reputation as a tough negotiator but we encourage them, as a New Hampshire company, to do right by the public and ask a reasonable price.

Studies done in Vermont and other places with bike trails found that the result is millions of dollars in additional economic activity. That, we believe, would be true in New Hampshire as well.

But any calculation should include the added value of reconnecting Concord with its river by a beautiful bike path accessible to all.

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