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The WOW Trail Creates a More Walkable City

By S. Mathur

With a name like the WOW Trail and events like the Runaway Pumpkin and the Bow Wow Fest, you know you're on to something good. The rail trail in Laconia, in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, brings out people young and old, walking, running, biking, rollerblading, and pushing baby carriages. And in winter, there's cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Widely used by local families and visitors, it promotes health, environmental concerns, and the local economy.

Contrary to popular belief, rail trails can run alongside active rail lines as well as along now-defunct lines. Gretchen Gandini, Owner and Executive Director, explains this in more detail.

"A rail trail is a multi-use, recreational path that runs parallel to an active railroad line or, a path created on a former railroad corridor where trains no longer travel. In the WOW Trail's case, it is alongside an active railroad line... located in the railroad right of way owned by the State of New Hampshire and managed by the NH Department of Transportation." The acronym WOW uses the names of the three lakes that will be connected by the trail: Winnisquam, Opechee, and Winnipesaukee.

The WOW Trail offers a safe pedestrian route from Elm Street in Lakeport to North Main Street near Downtown Laconia, creating a more walkable city. Environmentalists favor the rail trail because it cuts down on automobile use and promotes river conservation. The rail trail is also a sound business investment, attracting tourists and a quality workforce, by making the City a better place to live, work and play. In keeping with national trends, the WOW Trail is projected to dramatically increase the local economy. According to Gandini, "...according to a recent Belknap Economic Development Council study, a completed WOW Trail will bring an estimated 152,000 users annually, with 38,000 coming from outside of the Lakes Region - generating a minimum of $1.8 million in new visitor spending every year."

The first phase of the rail trail is now complete and construction for the second phase is due to begin in the Spring of 2016. The goal is eventually to unite the WOW Trail with the regional Trail network connecting Meredith to Franklin. To support this, the New Hampshire CFDA awarded $125,000 in state business tax credits. And the Laconia City Council voted to invest $400,000 of its Downtown Tax Increment Financing money into construction of Phase 2 of the WOW Trail. In addition, fundraisers like the WOW Sweepstakes Ball and a road race in the Fall draw upon support from the community.

But the WOW Trail is always looking for more support and Gandini suggests some possible actions: "Please share your enthusiasm for the Trail with local and State representatives. Volunteer your time. Make a donation. Use the Trail." The Runaway Pumpkin 5K and 10K run/walk is part of the city's Pumpkin Festival, which takes place this year on Saturday October 24.

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