Destination Bristol: A Transformed Downtown Surrounded by Natural Assets Attracts Visitors and Residents Alike

New Hampshire communities are doing big things to revitalize their downtowns.  Bristol, located in Grafton County in the center of the state, is one such community. If you visit Bristol today, you may think to yourself, “Wow, this place has got it happening---how did they do it?” It hasn’t been easy. In fact, a lot of behind-the-scenes work set the stage for the town’s success.

Local History and Natural Assets

Bristol’s centerpiece is a lovely historic town square, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A wealth of amenities are packed into the small square: a quirky and fun cafe, interesting stores, a fudge shop, a brewery, restaurants, and a public library. A park and public playground are close by, and you can hear the rushing water of the nearby Pemigewasset River. With so much to do and places to explore, it’s a destination for locals and visitors.

Natural assets abound within walking distance. At Newfound Lake, visitors can enjoy a picnic lunch in the park or hit up the trailhead for biking and walking. When the weather is warm, visitors can buy fresh veggies at the farmers market or head down the trail to a public beach. There are dozens of other activities—hiking, biking around the Newfound Lake Pathway, boating, outdoor festivals and more are all within reach. And in the winter, Ragged Mountain is close by and offers snowmobiling, skiing and other cold-weather sports.

A Community in Development

Building this friendly and bustling downtown took time and the determination of its leaders and volunteers. Through traditional town meetings, municipal committees, community organizations and community-based engagement programs, the town has blossomed into a great place to visit and live. How did it make the change?

Simply put, Bristol used community engagement to promote change. By partnering with Plan New Hampshire and UNH Extension’s Community and Economic Development team, leaders in Bristol were able to engage residents, shape ideas for revitalization through data collection and analysis and build a cohesive vision for the community.

For example, a 2008 charrette helped the community tackle a traffic flow problem around the town square. Another charrette in 2018 led to the development of a design plan to revitalize Kelley Park. Also last year (and continuing into 2019), Bristol has worked with the Community and Economic Development team’s Downtowns & Trails program to understand the economic and community-based opportunities to strengthen the connection between downtown and Newfound Lake.

These partnerships have made Bristol a more vibrant place to live, work and play, and we can’t wait to see how they keep the momentum going with other cool ideas and projects developed through these processes. In February, the town will host a community forum to discuss the Downtowns & Trails program’s findings and identify community projects and next steps. UNH Extension will continue to support Bristol as residents work on ways to make those ideas a reality.

To learn more about how volunteers are making a difference in Bristol, check out: Bristol, NH: A Growing Sense of Community Makes Change Happen

Explore Bristol’s story! Our spring Main Street Academy takes place in three N.H. communities in different stages of revitalization: Concord, Franklin, Bristol. Learn from experts and community leaders about their experience bringing vibrancy to their main street.