Hiker shuttle bus and blocked-off shoulders will try to tame Franconia Notch parking problems

  • Parking will be banned along Interstate 93 in Franconia Notch State Park this summer as tourists and hikers will be forced to take a shuttle bus to the park once parking lots are full. Photos courtesy of New Hampshire Department of Transportation

  • Parking will be banned along the highway in Franconia Notch State Park this summer as tourists and hikers will be forced to take a shuttle bus once parking lots are full. New Hampshire Department of Transportation—Courtesy

  • Parking will be banned along the highway in Franconia Notch State Park this summer as tourists and hikers will be forced to take a shuttle bus once parking lots are full. New Hampshire Department of Transportation—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/22/2019 4:33:29 PM

Hikers headed to Franconia Notch may soon find getting to the trailhead a little more complicated as the state cracks down on roadside parking along I-93 and starts a series of shuttle buses from Cannon Mountain on busy weekends.

The change will include putting up barriers to stop people from parking along the road near popular hiking trails where lots with limited spaces fill up quickly. 

The change comes after years of increasing safety concerns from hundreds of vehicles parking on shoulders of the two-lane I-93 during weekends and holidays, when throngs of visitors try the world-famous Franconia Loop hike or any of scores of other trails in that portion of the White Mountains. 

“We don’t want to just say ‘You can’t park!’ and then have 500-600 cars up there trying to figure out what to do,” said Mike Servetas, Assistant Director of Operations for the Department of Transportation. 

New Hampshire State Parks will be operating as many as four 11-passenger shuttle vans at a time running between the Cannon Mountain base parking lot at Exit 34C and the Falling Waters/Bridle Path trailhead and Lafatyette Place. The ride will cost $5 per person – cash only – and dogs are allowed. 

The state ran some hiker shuttles last August and learned from the experience.

“One thing we learned is we need more buses to cover peak times,” said Brent Wucher, Division of Parks and Recreation spokesman. 

The shuttles will run continuously from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, rain or shine, through the end of leaf-peeping season on Oct. 20.

Shoulders of the highway near popular locations will be blocked by bollards, movable posts with ropes between them that provide a visual deterrent but won’t prevent the use of shoulders by emergency vehicles if necessary.

Servetas said the bollards will be placed on the paved shoulders on weekends and holidays, while they will be push back onto the gravel portion of the road during weekdays.

“We’re hoping that people will learn there are alternatives and will change their behavior,” said Servetas.

Parking along the highway has always long been a problem but the social media-fueled popularity of hikes up to Franconia Ridge have worsened it in recent years. It has not been unusual in recent summers to see parked cars lining the road for a mile or more in each direction. 

“From our perspective, it’s a serious safety issue. We’ve had several close calls … with people parking on the side of the road, or crossing the road,” said Transportation Department spokesman Bill Boynton. 

“People ask why don’t we just ticket them and tow them. But that’s a real challenge logistically,” he said.

Too many cars near popular outdoors locations is a common problem throughout New Hampshire at popular spots like Diana’s Baths, a waterfall and natural play area in Conway. Franconia Notch is more complicated partly because of its popularity – summiting Mount Lafayette was once on National Geographic’s list of the 10 best hikes in the world – and partly because of the unusual status of what is known as the Franconia Notch Parkway but what is legally part of I-93.

The eight-mile stretch of I-93 through the notch is the only portion of the interstate highway system that is a single lane in each direction. It lacks the forbidding appearance of most interstates which makes people more willing to park on the shoulder and hike into the hills. 

This roadway configuration came about after almost three decades of debate. In 1959, as I-93 was being built in southern New Hampshire, the state legislature proposed keeping it four lanes through Franconia Notch. Concerns about the effect on the environment and tourism blocked that idea through half-a-dozen presidential administrations and it wasn’t until 1988, after Congress gave it an exception to the interstate construction rules, that the current road was opened. 

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


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