The First Central New Hampshire Trails Roundtable

  • Central NH trails roundable presenter at front of room

From rail trails and snowmobile routes to mountain bike singletracks, Central New Hampshire is fortunate to have a growing number of established public trails and trail systems. Most of these trails have not just happened by chance; rather, they have been the product of numerous community visioning and planning sessions, conversations with property owners, and countless volunteer hours. One organization aiming to build trails and develop a cooperative and collaborative vision for the region is the Foothills Foundation, a nonprofit founded by local outdoor recreation enthusiasts in the greater Northfield-Tilton-Franklin area. Community and Economic Development specialists from UNH Cooperative Extension have been involved with the organization since its inception, helping the group formulate its mission to promote outdoor recreation and economic expansion through community partnerships, trail building, and trail connections, and to highlight Central New Hampshire as a destination for mountain biking.

To better understand the dynamic landscape of outdoor recreation in the region, the Foothills Foundation, UNH Cooperative Extension, and Highland Mountain Bike Park co-hosted a roundtable event in Northfield on January 19th, 2023. Bridging counties, this trails-focused event was facilitated by Community and Economic Development Field Specialists from Belknap County and Merrimack County (Jada Lindblom, Ph.D., and Michael Polizzotti, respectively). The event aimed to bring together different groups that share similar missions and activities but may not often have opportunities to connect. Representatives from state and regional agencies and planning commissions attended, along with leaders from recreational trail organizations in the region. A combination of presentations and informal networking time allowed for meaningful conversations and information sharing to explore pathways to collaborate, create trail system linkages, and support one another’s missions.

Groups in attendance included mountain bike and e-bike groups, snowmobile clubs, rail trail and other regional trail organizations, an environmental education center, and outdoor recreation nonprofits. Additionally, state and regional agency and organizational representatives shared grant information and additional resources on behalf of the New Hampshire Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry Development, New Hampshire Trails Bureau, Granite Outdoor Alliance, and Lakes Region Planning Commission. UNH Cooperative Extension staff presented information about related trails research and signature programs such as Downtowns & Trails, which has aimed to help communities including Keene, Ossipee, and Bristol develop stronger linkages between their downtown/main street amenities and nearby trail and nature-based assets.

room full of roundtable attendees

In total, over 30 individuals representing about 20 related businesses, organizations, and initiatives were in attendance. Feedback from the event indicated that the information, ideas, and resources shared were highly valuable, and groups were excited about the connections they kindled. Because of this overwhelmingly positive feedback, many of the roundtable’s attendees have decided to meet regularly moving forward. Future meetings will be oriented toward possible collaborations on grants and funding opportunities, means to build safer and more accessible links between trail systems, and ways to engage broader audiences in the enjoyment and stewardship of regional trails and outdoor recreation amenities. While this event initially sought to focus on the Laconia-Northfield-Tilton-Franklin corridor region, interest from other nearby communities such as Concord, Warner, and Andover show that there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm currently for trail development and improvements in the broader Central NH region. The roundtable organizers hope that this will be the first of many gatherings opening opportunities to think creatively and collaboratively about outdoor recreation in New Hampshire.

Find out more about UNH Cooperative Extension’s tourism, outdoor recreation, and nature economy programs and offerings here.

Learn more about the Foothills Foundation here.

Author(s)

Community & Economic Development Field Specialist
Associate Field Specialist
Phone: 603-527-5475
Office: UNH Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824

Merrimack County
Extension Field Specialist, Community & Economic Development
Phone: (603) 255-3556 ext. 814
Office: UNH Cooperative Extension Community & Economic Development, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824