CONWAY — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) toured the under-construction 2.9-mile North Conway Rec Path on Wednesday and also got an update by MWV Trails Association officials on plans for a 2.2-mile extension for which she recently helped obtain a $2.2 million grant.
Shaheen said the project is an asset for residents and visitors alike. She also said it would be a job creator.
“It’s funding that we put into the American Rescue Plan to help tourism. So, it’s nice to see the grant going to good use. I think it’s another amenity for people, both for those who live in this area and for people coming to stay. It’s another opportunity to see the beauty of New Hampshire,” said Shaheen.
Shaheen said she did not realize it took 20 years of planning to bring the rec path to fruition and said Chris Meier, president of the non-profit trails association, and others “must be very excited about it.”
“We are and if you come here on a weekend you can see people already riding on it on a good day,” said Meier.
Meier noted that the 2.9-mile section from Cranmore to Hemlock Lane was funded by a $1.6 million matching Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program grant as well as a $200,000 Northern Borders grant, along with Community Development Finance Authority tax credits of $240,000; Connie Davis Watson, $300,000; Ham Foundation, $200,000; Gibson-Woodbury Charitable Foundation, $100,000; River Run Companies, $100,000 and many other local grants.
The tour started at Hemlock Lane and traveled to the Puddin Pond overlook, where the Connie Davis Watson Foundation gave a grant for a park.They next stopped a little further north of there where Coleman crews were working on retaining walls. Coleman crews have made steady progress and are on schedule, with a contracted completion date of June 2023.
Committee members had hoped to get paving done this fall but recently decided to delay it until spring on the recommendation of Town Engineer Paul DegliAngeli, who joined the tour.
The group next headed to Cranmore to see work on another section and a boardwalk being built there.
They traveled in two four-wheel drive vehicles — the first driven by Meier, and transporting Shaheen, Shaheen press assistant Cassia Burns and Sun photographer Rachel Sharples. The second vehicle was driven by DegliAngeli, and carried Shaheen special assistants for projects and policy Chuck Henderson and Tina Kasim and MWV Trails Association project manager Larry Garland.
They were met in a third car by project civil engineer Burr Phillips of Civil Solutions and volunteer Laurel Smith.
At Cranmore, they were greeted by Cranmore President and General manager Ben Wilcox, director of marketing Becca Deschenes and Richard Lafrance, chief executive officer of Lafrance Hospitality, owner/operator of the Marriott Residence Inn of North Conway and the company behind the soon-to-open hotel at the start of the trail at Cranmore that is set to open later this fall.
Meier and fellow trail officials then gave Shaheen an update on the 2.2-mile extension that is to be built from Cranmore to the state’s Scenic Vista Visitor Center in Intervale.
Working with other members of the state’s federal delegation, Shaheen in September helped secure a $2.2 million Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Economic Development Administration grant for the MWVTrails Association’s Cranmore-to-Intervale extension as part of the American Rescue Plan.
Meier said they are working on a preferred route with one private landowner whom he said is “very much on board.” The route would go from Cranmore and stay north and east of the power lines and along the Conway Scenic Railroad Mountain Division tracks in Whitaker Woods and proceed to Intervale.
Shaheen during the ride to Cranmore asked about the Intervale location and whether a tunnel might have to be built, and Meier said talks are expected to be held with the state Department of Transportation. He told Shaheen they would hope to start work on the extension in 2024 and they are required by the EDA grant to complete it within five years but that they would hope to finish it sooner than that.
Meier said although the $2.2 million EDA grant and a second Connie Davis Watson $1 million grant is expected to pay in full the extension, efforts are ongoing to raise from donors an additional $200,000 for the southern section from Cranmore to Hemlock Lane to address shortfalls.
He also discussed plans to extend the trail from Hemlock Lane to behind the Conway Police Station and across the Saco River and eventually to connect with the four-mile recreation path in Fryeburg.
He said current estimates are $1.1 million per mile for a paved path.
He said the group would continue to explore additional federal grants for the extension from Hemlock Lane to Fryeburg.
At Cranmore, Shaheen said she and staff would stop at the Scenic Vista on their way north to Berlin.
For additional information about the MWV Trails Association, go to mwvrecpath.org