WOW Trail

The WOW Trail, shown on Oct. 17, begins in Lakeport Square and proceeds southwest into downtown Laconia but the proposed Opechee Loop would also see it extend west on Elm Street and then south into the downtown.

The Laconia City Council has unanimously endorsed the creation of “The Lake Opechee Loop” recreational path trail off the existing WOW Trail.

At present the WOW Trail — an acronym for Winnisquam, Opechee and Winnipesaukee, the three lakes which the paved, 10-foot wide trail is intended to connect — extends southwest from Lakeport Square along the state-owned railroad right-of-way into downtown Laconia and from there to the Belmont town line and Belmont’s Winnisquam Scenic Trail.

In turn, the Winnisquam Scenic Trail ties into the Winnipesaukee River Trail in Tilton and Franklin. Hopes are for it to connect with trail systems to the west and north.

Meanwhile, the WOW Trail is proposed to go north to The Weirs section of Laconia on Lake Winnipesaukee and from there, to link up with a trail in Meredith.

Because of opposition from residential communities on Paugus Bay that that section of the WOW Trail would pass, however, the expansion has taken a backseat for now to the “Opechee Loop” that Allen Beetle, a founder of the WOW Trail effort and its president, presented to the Laconia City Council on Oct. 12.

The Loop, he said, will make Laconia a “more walkable, bikable, and in a safer manner,” a better place to live.

The first section of the Loop would extend from Lakeport Square to Franklin Street and then all the way up Elm Street to North Main Street, which is also known as New Hampshire Route 106.

At North Main Street, a crosswalk would continue the Loop onto the former Laconia State School property and into Ahern State Park before bending south to Shore Drive and then into the downtown.

Beetle, who is an owner of Patrick’s Pub & Eatery in Gilford, conceded that the Opechee Loop has “a lot of difficult spots.”

“This is not an easy project,” he said, adding that there are “plenty of pinch points.”

The Loop will require both a great plan, said Beetle, and “a great deal of money,” some of which will be from donations and some from federal infrastructure-stimulus grants.

The Opechee Loop is “all about making this community a better place to live and a better place to visit, and I think this can do it,” said Beetle.

Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer commended Beetle for the Opechee Loop, saying it would improve access to the downtown and would also be welcome to the party or parties that might acquire and redevelop the State School property, which the state is actively marketing.

The closer that the Opechee Loop is to being shovel-ready, said Hosmer, the better its chances to get funded should Congress pass an infrastructure bill that gets signed into law.

A self-described regular user of the WOW Trail, Hosmer said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the variety of people who he’s encountered on it.

Beetle said the next step is to get a cost estimate for the Opechee Loop from Lakeport Square to Franklin Street and to bring that information back to the City Council.

“We want to be ready in case we have a funding source,” he said.