Accessible trail considered in Londonderry

Union Leader Correspondent
June 27. 2014 8:32PM

LONDONDERRY — As town officials envision the future of Londonderry’s town common and town forest, many agree the site should be made more accessible for residents with physical disabilities.

During Thursday night’s heritage commission meeting, Commissioner Ann Chiampa shared updates on a proposal to build an accessible trail winding through forest behind the historic commons. The forest lands were acquired by the town in 1985.

Initial discussions on the topic began during the May 28 master plan implementation committee meeting, where board members approached the town council and Town Manager Kevin Smith to give them some direction in managing the site.

Chiampa suggested a trail system that would begin behind the bandstand and loop through the adjacent forest, leading to a viewing platform at the far south end, overlooking nearby Moose Hill Orchards.

Smith stressed that any decisions on the future of the town forest and common would ultimately need to be made by the planning board and town council, with voters to have the final say via a future ballot item.

During the May discussion, Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz said he wasn’t opposed to having trails through the town forest, but expressed concern that hard-packed trails for access might contradict with conservation goals.

However, Smith noted that having preserved, outdoor spaces for all residents to enjoy was consistent with the vision of former property owner Andy Mack Sr., who donated the land to the town for conservation and recreation purposes.

Over the past month, Chiampa said she’s been looking to other communities for inspiration. A recent visit to the accessible trails at Crotched Mountain in Greenfield gave her plenty of food for thought.

“It was amazing what I saw there,” she said. “To look at it, you’d never know it was designed to be accessible.”

According to the organization’s website, Crotched Mountain’s Gregg and Dutton Brook trails combine hardtack pathways, boardwalks and moderate grades to create a fully-accessible, yet natural-appearing hiking experience.

The Greenfield trails, which opened three years ago, were designed by trail builder Peter Jenson, The $500,000 project was funded through private donations and grants.

Could such a project work for Londonderry? Right now it’s tough to say, but town officials are open to discussing some future options.

“Personally, I think if we’re trying to open this area up for more activities it needs to be handicapped accessible, period,” Town Councilor Jim Butler said.

Heritage Commissioner Tom Bianchi said the project could potentially be done in phases. “That might work better, if we run into opposition moneywise,” he said. “We could make a nice, clear trail first, then make it wheelchair accessible later on.”

Chiampa said she plans to share her ideas next with the conservation commission as well as the Londonderry Trailways organization over the coming months.

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