Thursday, June 17, 2021
submitted by Matt Bowser, CNHNEMBA Chapter Vice President
For most people traveling to New Hampshire, the city of Concord has always been a convenient place to stop for groceries, gas, and dinner on the way to the Lakes Region or White Mountains, but unless you are a lawyer or a politician, the city has never been much of a destination for most people.
What most don’t realize is that for the past three decades, Concord has been quietly acquiring undeveloped land and building trails for multi-use recreation (including mountain biking), and as of this writing Concord has over 80 miles of developed trails throughout the city.
In 2017 the Central New Hampshire chapter of NEMBA (CNHNEMBA) and the city of Concord began what we hope is a long and productive partnership to build and maintain trails in the city. Around that time, the city acquired a large parcel of land adjacent to an existing conservation area that already had developed multi-use trails. The Broken Ground conservation area was a popular lunch destination for mountain bikers and trail runners due to its close proximity to the State Office Park and several commercial office buildings but lacked the inventory to make it a destination for longer after-work or weekend rides.
CNHNEMBA Answers the Call
Concord recognized that building and maintaining trails on their growing list of conserved open space was limited by the small workforce of largely retired volunteers and a handful of employees, so the city began seeking outside help from volunteer organizations.
CNHNEMBA answered their call and worked with the city to develop a pilot project on the new land acquisition next to Broken Ground. Over the next year, city officials and the CNHNEMBA leadership team worked together to establish a new process to allow outside organizations to build and help maintain trails on city land.
The process involved working with the Conservation Commission, the Trails Committee, and city planners to establish a work plan with timelines and deliverables. CNHNEMBA also gave presentations at public hearings and worked with the city forester to develop trail boundaries that would not interfere with an upcoming logging operation or disrupt any critical wildlife habitat.
Once all the approvals were in place, CNHNEMBA began work, and in November 2018, Ry’s Way was officially opened with a small ceremony with the family of ‘Ry’ Sumner Perry (the trail’s namesake). Since opening Ry’s Way and connecting it to the rest of the Broken Ground conservation trail system, the area has become a very popular mountain bike location and has had very favorable reviews from both the mountain bike community and the residents of Concord.
In 2019, Concord purchased another large parcel of land adjacent to another existing conservation area (Oak Hill) and CNHNEMBA immediately began work on the project with the city. The success of Ry’s Way paved the way for a more streamlined process now that the trust relationship had been established between the city and CNHNEMBA and we were granted approval for two new trails on this property.Unfortunately, the pandemic ground everything to a halt for most of 2020, but during that time CNHNEMBA and the city worked behind the scenes to get all the approvals in place so that by the time things began to open up this spring, we were ready for action. Since April of 2021, we have had two major trail days with over 20 volunteers at each event, tapping into a community that loves the outdoors and is excited for new trails to explore in their own backyard.
Lessons Learned while Building Trust
While CNHNEMBA has had years of experience working with both public and private landowners, our work with Concord has taught us a number of important lessons when establishing a trust relationship with a landowner (especially municipalities). Some of these may seem obvious, but can be a challenge when you are relying on an all volunteer workforce:
You need a manager - Someone who is the face of the organization for each engagement is essential for the trust relationship to develop and grow. The manager may be tapped for presentations, public hearings, and trail event coordination. It’s essential that the manager has both the time and passion to give.
Follow through - Do what you say and say what you mean. Public landowners such as municipalities are all about stability and not following through with action signals instability.
Be patient - Municipal landowners are often constrained by a litany of rules and regulations that may make the pace seem downright glacial, but remember that we are in it for the long run and your patience now will pay off down the road.
Be responsive - Expect to field a lot of questions in the form of emails and phone calls. Respond to each query as quickly as possible.
The new trails will open this summer and Concord has already installed a new parking area and kiosk to help alleviate some of the parking problems at the other parking lots at Oak Hill. Once we finish up the last of the trail work, the city will print out the final maps, post them in the kiosk and open the trails to the general public. These new trails will add several challenging but fun biking miles to the existing 10 miles that the Oak Hill conservation already offers.
So the next time you find yourself driving through Concord on your way North, think about stopping in and sampling some of the city has to offer.
Situated on the Merrimack River in south central New Hampshire, Concord is the seat of Merrimack County as well as the state capital. Concord is 42 miles from New Hampshire's southern boundary and 135 miles from the northern boundary and boasts a population of just over 43,000. Conveniently located, Concord is 18 miles north of the state's largest city, Manchester, and 70 miles north of Boston.