Heat brings temporary fix to overcrowded parking lots in Franconia Notch

  • A near-full parking lot at The Basin is seen in Franconia Notch State Park in Lincoln on Saturday, July 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Orange cones mark no parking areas as Lydia Cronkhite and her husband Jonah, of Nobleboro, Maine, emerge from a bike trail near the Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park in Franconia on Saturday, July 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Parked cars creep beyond the parking lot just outside the Lafayette Place Campground and Lonesome Lake Trailhead in Franconia Notch State Park in Franconia on Saturday, July 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 7/5/2018 5:18:29 PM

The state may have found a solution to the problem of too many people flooding into Franconia Notch and overflowing all the parking lots, but it’s not a solution most of us are going to like: Schedule a record-breaking heat wave.

On the Fourth of July, the heat kept some people away.

“Echo Lake beach was packed, but traffic for the (Cannon Mountain) tram and The Flume were not super busy. And there were actually no cars overflowing on the road,” said Greg Keeler, spokesman for New Hampshire State Parks.

That often isn’t the case on holidays when the beauty of Franconia Notch, combined with the ease of getting there from Interstate 93, draws more visitors than parking areas can accommodate.

The usual response is to park along the side of the highway; it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of cars lining the highway near popular areas, including Lafayette Place, a common starting point for the popular Franconia Notch hiking loop.

Keeler said Wednesday it appeared traffic was limited in part by the Fourth of July being a mid-week holiday, and also by the brutal heat wave, which had entered its sixth day.

“Earlier in the week, this past weekend, there seemed to be more people hiking than there were on (the Fourth),” Keeler said.

Parking along I-93 is unsafe and illegal, although the law is rarely enforced. State and federal officials have long debated how to react to the popularity of one of New Hampshire’s iconic locations, and there are legitimate complications.

One is jurisdictional: Franconia Notch Park is state run, and the highway is patrolled by State Police, not local law enforcement. In addition, the surrounding White Mountain National Park is overseen by federal authorities. Another hurdle is environmental: The obvious solution is to build more parking areas but turning scenic areas into pavement is unpopular. In fact, the desire to preserve Franconia Notch is why this stretch of I-93 is virtually the only two-lane road on the entire interstate system; initial plans called for a standard four-lane interstate through the notch until they ran into public outcry.

“We are actively pursuing solutions that ensure the safety of our visitors to the park and White Mountain National Forest,” Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said in a statement released to encourage people to avoid popular locations on busy weekends.

The July 1 statement said, “Over the course of the next few weeks, the state will be advancing new strategies to address the issue.”

Information on available hiker parking lots, parking lot capacity and trails accessed from these parking lots is available at franconianotchstatepark.com.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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