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Online maps, GPS send Pats Peak traffic through back roads, to neighbors’ dismay

  • Google Maps’ directions to Pats Peak from Concord suggest taking the shortcut through Hatfield and College Hill/River roads in Henniker rather than the ski area’s preferred route of 114 through Henniker. The route is recommended even though Google Maps incorrectly lists College Hill Road as being closed in the winter. 

  • A car turns on to College Hill Road off of Hatfield Road in Hopkinton that people are now using as a shortcut to Pats Peak in Henniker. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/12/2019 3:55:54 PM

Living near a ski area sounds pretty great to many people. But when you’re not hitting the slopes there’s a drawback: Traffic.

“Once ski season starts we can only go down to the corner and take a left – it’s really dangerous,” said Laura Morgan of Barton Hill Road, speaking before the Hopkinton Select Board on Monday. “Even the buses that come seem to not pay attention to what’s going on in the neighborhood.”

Morgan said police in Hopkinton, as well as in neighboring Henniker, do their best but there are limits.

“When we call, the police do come and patrol, but they can’t be there seven days a week, sunrise to sunset,” commented Morgan. She was accompanied by a number of aggrieved residents and said she “drew the short straw” to present their concerns to the board.

The lure for all this traffic is Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker, which has gotten off to a great start this season thanks to early snow. When the white stuff beckons, the cars – and the tour buses, and the yellow buses carrying after-school programs – arrive from all directions.

For neighborhoods to the east of the resort, the problem is that many online GPS services such as Google Maps and Waze direct westbound traffic through back streets, starting with Hatfield Road off State Route 202, rather than sending traffic up to Route 114 and through town, as Pats Peak recommends.

“We give people directions on our website but nobody looks at that page. They jump in the car and punch in Pats Peak Ski Area (into a phone) and head off,” said Kris Blomback, general manager of Pats Peak.

There’s not much that can be done about directions via online mapping services, according to Blomback. He said the ski area did get things changed a few years ago when people were being directed to the wrong place entirely.

“At one point they were sending people on a Class 6 road in Warner. ... We got the first phone call, we asked ‘where are you?’ They said some turnaround in Warner, there’s no ski area here. Then we started getting 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 phone calls,” he recalled.

But Blomback held out little hope in this case.

“They will fix factual errors, like sending people to Warner, but they are not going to fix quote-unquote shortcuts,” he said.

Monday’s discussion at the Hopkinton Select Board acknowledged as much.

“There’s nothing we could do about diverting GPS,” said Morgan, before adding a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that drew wide laughter from the crowd: “The only thing we could do is close College Hill (road) for a year, then people’s GPS would reset.”

Actually, that ridiculous idea might not work. For reasons that are unclear, Google Maps lists College Hill Road as being closed from December to March, which has never been true. Yet despite this mistaken belief, Google Maps still suggests that people use College Hill Road to get to Pats Peak.

Blomback noted that Peaks Peak participates in state and federal programs to allow signs on roads, including those on Route I-89 and the state’s “attraction” program that puts the so-called brown signs on main routes in Weare and Henniker that tell people about the ski area.

“There are a lot of stipulations on where and why those signs can go in,” he said.

Among the suggestions bandied about at the selectmen’s meeting were flashing speed limit signs or “local traffic only” signs on College Hill Road. That latter idea would probably not be possible, however, as there are legal rules about limiting traffic on roads.

“Public roads are public roads, they’re open to the public,” said Town Administrator Neil Cass.

A more likely suggestion is to put up a sign on Route 202 at the Hatfield Road exit telling people that the Pats Peak exit is a few miles ahead.

The state does something similar on a temporary basis when the Hopkinton Fair is operating, directing traffic to use Exit 6 rather than Exit 4 off Route 202.

“We’ll look at whatever options are out there,” said Cass.

In the meantime, some people are resigned.

“Without the ski area there would be a lot less business in town,” said Melissa, an employee at the Back in the Saddle Equine Center on College Hill Road who declined to give her last name. “It’s part of what makes the world work.”

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

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