LINCOLN — Following years of safety concerns about illegal parking by hikers headed to nearby trailheads, the state this weekend will begin actively enforcing the “No standing, stopping or parking” law on the Franconia Notch Parkway.
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation on Wednesday installed bollards and roping on the parkway, also known as Interstate 93, in the southbound lane both above and below the Lafayette Place Campground. They were also placed across the road in the northbound lane around the entrance to the parking lot for the Old Bridle Path/Falling Waters trails.
The NHDOT also erected numerous signs behind the bollards and ropes telling motorists they should consider moving on.
Lt. Gary Prince, commander of New Hampshire State Police Troop F in nearby Twin Mountain, said in an e-mail Thursday that “State police will be enforcing the stopping/standing/parking laws up to and including the towing of vehicles if needed.”
The fine for stopping on I-93 is $62.
Visitors to Franconia Notch do have alternatives, according to NH DOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan and Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Among those choices is to park at the overflow lot, across from the Cannon Mountain ski area, and take a shuttle to the trails.
On Saturdays and Sundays now through Oct. 20, the shuttle, which costs $5 (cash only) per person, does a 23-minute loop from Cannon to Lafayette Place and the Bridle Path/Falling Waters trails parking lot.
Greg Keeler is marketing manager for Franconia Notch State Park, which includes Cannon. He said the park increased the number of shuttles it is leasing from two to four this year in anticipation of a greater demand brought on by parking enforcement along the parkway.
People who want to park at the Lafayette Place or at the Bridle Path/Falling Waters trails lot can continue to do so, Keeler said, but they have to show up very early. He suggested that to save money, and also to increase shuttle efficiency, drivers of vehicles with multiple passengers should drop them and their gear off at the trailhead and then proceed alone to the Cannon lot.
There are similarities between what is happening in Franconia Notch and at Diana’s Baths, which is located in Bartlett.
The parking problems at that natural attraction were on West Side Road in Conway. The Conway Board of Selectmen eliminated the problem by enacting an on-street parking ban, with the Conway police issuing more than three dozen, $100 tickets.
Commissioner Bob Quinn of the New Hampshire Department of Safety said parking on I-93 is not only illegal, it’s unsafe.
“I-93 is a two-lane highway with little buffer space between the shoulder and rapidly passing vehicles. Parking on the shoulder is not only hazardous for those exiting their cars, but also for those driving on the road,” he said.
Mike Servetas, who is an avid hiker and the NH DOT’s assistant director of operations, said the problem in Franconia Notch has grown “exponentially in the last eight to ten years.”
The DOT has recorded upward of 700 vehicles parked illegally on the parkway on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer or fall.
Servetas expects that state police will do more education than enforcement in Franconia Notch, and that drivers will eventually learn not to park illegally there.
NH DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said that while some people will say “nothing has happened there” in Franconia Notch because of the illegal parking, there has indisputably been “a fair amount of close calls and cringe moments” as pedestrians cross the parkway as traffic whizzes by.
“It’s not a good recipe for a safe experience,” Boynton said.
“We know people are coming up from sometimes a great distance and they kind of wander into the area and see cars lining up along the parkway and think this must be the place,” when, he said, it is actually the worst place to park.