The Rails to Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C. has added the 52-mile Northern Rail Trail in Grafton and Merrimack Counties to its list of “100 Top Trails in the U.S.” This rail trail is one of the longest in New England and is the longest in New Hampshire. The Trail crosses the State of New Hampshire from Lebanon in the Connecticut River Valley to Boscawen, on the Merrimack just north of Concord. Its ultimate length will be 59 miles. The Trail, which spans two counties, has been worked on heavily the past 15 years by two volunteer groups and over half million dollars of public and private funds have been spent on its improvement. A westward extension of the trail toward Vermont from downtown Lebanon as part of the Mascoma River Greenway is in development.
The Rail Trail has been a major snowmobile thoroughfare since the mid 1990’s. In non-snow seasons its unpaved surface (stone dust and cinders) is exceptional for walking and hybrid biking as well as all other permitted uses. Flat (at most 1% change in grade), the Trail is almost entirely removed from vehicular traffic. The views across meadows, lakes and rivers to low mountains are striking and memorable as it meanders through farmlands, pristine lakes and rural towns. Trail bridges cross rushing rivers and 1.5 miles of unspoiled frontage on Lake Mascoma completely away from roads lead to Mascoma River along historic mill sites into Lebanon. Other attractions include the Potter Place Depot, Highland Lake, the covered bridge at Bridge Road in Andover and the restored Enfield Depot. Moose can often be seen along the streams and marshes in Grafton and Orange. In Canaan views of Cardigan Mountain reflected in Mirror Lake invite both a rest stop and photo op.
President of the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Grafton County, Dick Mackay, said, “We are delighted that the Northern has been added to the list of top rail trails in the country. I guess the beauty of the Northern’s surroundings, its length, and the way it connects one part of New Hampshire to another made it a fine candidate. This is a boost for Grafton and Merrimack County volunteers who work hard to create and maintain the Rail Trail.”
At the east end of the trail The Highland Lake Inn serves as a welcome center for the Rail Trail. Use of toilet facilities, parking, and trail information are free services provided by the center. The West end of the trail is downtown Lebanon, where one can get free bus service (with bike racks) to nearby Hanover NH and Norwich VT.
Grafton County: http://www.northernrailtrail.
See also advancetransit.com
Merrimack County: http://www.fnrt.org