Summer 2017 Activities on the Northern Rail Trail

Many improvements for safety and surface quality

Press release


Photo of Bridge St. Iron Bridge: New safety feature; decking covering gaps open to the water between the bridge sides and the rail trail

The Friends of the Northern Rail Trail are committed to maintaining a safe and enjoyable experience for rail trail users whether they come on foot, bicycle, horseback, skis or snowmobile. Much time and treasure has been spent on building the  rail trail since its inception in 2004. Now we have shifted our focus to promotion, preserving the surface, and attending to safety and drainage issues on bridges, in tunnels and at trail-side. In our mind’s eye however it is our sincerest hope that an extension of the rail trail from its present terminus in Boscawen to Concord comes to fruition. We fully support preliminary efforts being made by the City of Concord in this regard.

This summer has been a busy time on the rail trail both in terms of use by its fans and by volunteers and contractors promoting and improving it. Here is a summary of the Friends’ doings of late:

Rail trail volunteers hosted a number of promotional and fundraising events with its participation in the Concord Market Days event in June and its bike raffle at the Andover Fourth of July Celebration, Wilmot Farmers’ Market booth presence and Wilmot Bandstand food concession fundraiser in July. In August, FNRT-MC’s booth and bike raffle were present at the Old Time Fair at Potter Place. Two October events in Andover fleshed out the season with the presence of FNRT-MC’s info booth at the Proctor Academy Special Olympics Fun Day and the hosting of its annual Peter Crowell Memorial Ride.

Photo of Potter Place Bridge: New safety feature; decking covering gaps open to the water between the bridge sides and the rail trail

Weather-wise, the summer of 2017 was just plain stormy. In many instances trees were uprooted and fell across the Trail. FNRT-MC is grateful to volunteers Steve Robinson of Hill and Prescott Towle of Epson who were very quick to get out with their chain saw to remove them. With severe storms becoming the norm we assume this kind of maintenance work will continue into the future, and we are planning for it.

Vegetation control is another ongoing issue for the Friends. To keep the vegetation at bay, the entire 35 miles of Trail in Merrimack County was mowed in August by Andover resident Jim Shaw as contracted. This fall, goats are being engaged to help out on a trial basis thanks to Cheryl Sisson of Wild Meadow Farm in Danbury.

Historically, the Northern Railroad did an impressive job of engineering ditches and culverts to keep water from eroding the rail bed. But over the years since rail service ended in the 1970’s, culverts have become blocked and ditches have been filled with silt. We hope that with annual maintenance we will be able to keep up with Nature’s changes to the Trail.

Crews work to open culverts on the Northern Rail Trail to provide proper drainage of rain and surface water on the trail. Photo Chris Norris

To this end, rail trail volunteer Ricker Miller of Andover worked with Mark Thompson Excavating early in the summer to restore the railroad ditch near the Fire Station in East Andover to keep water flowing alongside rather than running across the Trail. They also rebuilt an old drain at the crossing of Channel Road to carry the water away.

In September,  Jon Champagne of Andover was called on by FNRT-MC board members and project leader Chris Norris to clean a number of other culverts in Andover, Wilmot and Danbury and to do 400 feet of resurfacing, using our chosen formula of 3/8's size stone dust or less mix of organics and stone, just north of Jack Wells Road in Danbury.

In Danbury, culverts were cleared and the entrances and exits to them completely redug. At Eagle Pond, the effort to complete the task of clearing was even more daunting. All the culverts were found to be completely plugged and in some instances the exits were buried to the point that it took some digging just to find them. At long last, clearing was accomplished by Jon’s pressured water blasting system. According to Chris, “Jon's mantra to me and to his crew was that they would get it done right, whatever it took.” It is this kind of commitment that FNRT-MC is so grateful for.

Then there are the safety issues that arise. Holes large enough to trip up a horse shoe or bicycle have appeared in the decking of various bridges over time. FNRT-MC wishes to thank the Andover Snowmobile Club for replacing planking on two Andover bridges earlier in the summer.

A worker used a high pressure water hose to open a drainge culvert on the Rail Trail
Photo: Chris NOrris

In August, Mark Thompson Excavating was called on again, this time to improve the safety of the Lawrence Street. tunnel at Blackwater Park. The company resurfaced the bed within and took additional steps to manage runoff outside the culvert by putting rock where topsoil had washed away. Options to light the tunnel are also being considered by the board.

Finally, FNRT-MC contracted with another of its favorite go-to problem solvers, Rodney Judkins of Lakeview Contractors in Franklin to think hard about the safety problems presented by the Bridge Street and the Potter Place bridges. In the case of the bridge closest to the covered bridge on Bridge Street, decking was extended and fitted to cover gaps at the side of the rail bed that had long been considered a danger. And the broken railings on the bridge just east of Potter Place were replaced and improved on to make that bridge safer too.

According to Chris, “huge kudos to Rodney Judkins and Jon Champagne for the usual excellence we have come to expect in their work and their desire to satisfy those expectations, often under some very difficult circumstances.” FNRT-MC’s members of the board concur wholeheartedly.