Hometown Hero: The long and winding road in Concord is off and running
|Published: 07-02-2023 3:00 PM
Tim Blagden is heading in the right direction.
For several years, he’s been dreaming of a hiking, biking and walking trail 34-miles long that, with a landowner’s permission, would allow snowmobiling in certain spots. As Blagden saw it, a trail connecting Concord to Newbury Harbor on Lake Sunapee would reveal the region’s rich history, focusing on the railroad and various mills, and serve as a connective force that unites the towns through the up-and-coming access north.
Sound nutty? That’s what many in the area thought.
They were wrong when it came to the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, a volunteer organization determined to expand concord’s hiking system no matter what.
The plan - building an all-purpose trail from Concord through Hopkinton, Warner, Sutton, Bradford and Newbury – has no timetable for completion. That depends on private donations and grants from government organizations.
After two years of planning, the project is in its final phase of actually building the trail. The trail is 14 percent done, equaling 4.8 miles, and there are 2.3 miles involved in active construction projects.
Blagden has worked tirelessly with more than 100 volunteers. He’s quick to add a footnote, that his retirement at a relatively young age, mid 50s, has been anything but golf and naps.
In fact, he declined to call this his retirement.
“I’m not retired,” he insisted. “I offer my services pro-bono. When I retire you will find me sailing, bike riding, hiking, skiing and spending more time with my wife, children and grandchildren.”
Bo Petersson, admiring the selfless work shown by his friend, suggested that Blagden join the Monitor’s list of Hometown Hero winners, and his reasoning was obvious.
“He’s just one of those people who once he gets going on something, he’s unstoppable,” Petersson said. “And this is what he’s dedicated to doing. He retired, so he’s available all the time.”
Blagden, 64, took two posts in 2013, solidifying his place as a major partner of wildlife and recreation in the Concord region.
First, he was named the executive director of the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire, advocating for safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians. The group oversees education, legislation and enforcement of laws for drivers, runners and cyclists.
Later that year, Blagden was named president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail. As was written in online material, the Friends envisioned a huge project early on: turn those 34 miles into a forgiving trail geared for families.
“The mission of the Friends of the Concord - Lake Sunapee Rail Trail is to create a multiuse trail from Pierce Manse in Concord NH to Newbury Harbor in Newbury NH,” Blagden explained on his website. “My role is to enable a team of volunteer directors, landowners, municipalities and state agencies to work together for the benefit of the trail.”
The project has been a labor of love. Local loyalty from businesses helped secure sponsorship, but there was so much more to do. More fundraising. Securing grants. Convincing land owners to agree to easement status, come aboard, join the team, host a piece of history on a small section of their property. And hiring contractors for help.
That took two years, as was the plan. The final chapter is underway, the heavy lifting needed to clear brush, shovel snow, mow grass, lay stone dust down, volunteer and on and on.
For the most part, permits, easements and other paperwork have been signed. Like with many such projects, funding and cooperation are needed to complete the task. Access to land is vital, coming directly from residents along the trail who see an exciting enterprise moving into their lives.
“When each landowner is ready to picture how this could work for them,” Blagden said via email, “we are ready to help realize that vision.”
As for private contributions, Blagden said the show will go no matter what. The Friends have already received a $1.2 million congressionally-directed grant in the federal appropriations bill.
Money moves the project, determining when the task is done.
“So the trail will be complete when we’ve inspired enough people to enable it to happen,” Blagden said. “In the meantime, it’s our goal to build some portion of the trail every year.”