FRANCONIA — Given the availability of federal funds for capital projects, officials at Franconia Notch State Park are wondering whether the time is right to seek money for the rehabilitation or replacement of the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway.
Rehabilitation could cost an estimated $10 million to $15 million, while replacement is in the $20 million to $30 million ballpark, according to John DeVivo, the general manager of Franconia Notch State Park, during presentations by him last week to the governor, executive council and the Cannon Mountain Advisory Commission.
Meeting on July 16, the commission voted unanimously to “support the use of multiple sources of funding, including the Cannon Mountain Capital Improvement Fund and ARPA funding (the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) for improvements at the Aerial Tramway and to water and septic system projects,” according to minutes of the meeting.
On Wednesday, DeVivo said the conversation about using federal money for the tramway began in Concord.
In terms of priorities, the tramway needs to replace what he called “the current primary systems.” These include the tram cars — which would increase capacity from 80 to 100 passengers — the hanger arms, carriage trolleys, electromechanical components and the motor and braking systems, he said.
That cumulative upgrade would give the tramway an extra 20 years of operation, while a new tramway would last between 40 and 50 years, he said.
One of less than two dozen tramways nationwide and one of only two in New England – the other is at Jay Peak in Vermont – the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway “is getting to the point where you can’t get replacement parts” easily, said DeVivo.
That said, it’s still in good shape and has been well-maintained since going into service in 1980, 42 years after the original tramway opened, he said.
It took 15 years from the time that someone in 1965 suggested a second-generation aerial tramway to its becoming a reality, “but we don’t have 15 years” now, said DeVivo, which is why he and others are trying to see if the ARPA money can be accessed.
“The timing seems to be right,” said DeVivo, but “we have many steps to go, even in the request process.” He said any request for money for the tramway would come from the NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and the division of NH State Parks.
The tramway “is a fixture in the parks system,” said DeVivo, and it, along with Franconia Notch State Park, which includes The Flume Gorge and Cannon ski area, together generate between $10 million and $11 million annually.
The tramway, whose annual operating/maintenance and capital costs are between $350,000 and $500,000, generates about $2 million a year, said DeVivo, and is actually more profitable and busier in spring, summer and fall, than in winter.