The Bulletin Board

Closing the ‘big gap’: Senate to vote on rail trail connector bill

By: - April 20, 2022 5:45 pm

A section of the Concord to Lake Sunapee Rail Trail in Penacook, on April 20. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The Senate is set to approve a bill Thursday that would make it easier to connect segments of the state’s rail trail by protecting railroad property owners from liability when outdoor recreation is allowed on the land. 

Without House Bill 1579, “We can’t close what we call the big gap,” Jason Soukup told Senate lawmakers during a public hearing for the bill this month. Soukup works for Manchester Moves, a nonprofit that has built trails in and around Manchester.

The “big gap” separates the northern portion of the Granite State Rail Trail, a 58-mile trail stretching from Boscawen to Lebanon, from the southern portion of the trail, which runs from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport to Salem, according to Soukup. “Where we are stuck is where there’s still a railroad for some reason or another,” he said.

The bill would make clear that railroad owners are protected from liability when people using the trails suffer injuries or have other accidents. Soukup said it would allow Manchester Moves to close the “big gap,” adding 30 miles of trail to connect Manchester to Concord.

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources also supports the bill. The Bureau of Trails, located within that department, manages around 300 miles of state-owned rail trails, in addition to 1,000 miles of OHRV trails and 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Most of the trail system is on privately owned land, according to Trails Bureau Chief Craig Rennie.

“One of the major reasons landowners want to support public access on their properties is because of the liability protections landowners have,” he told lawmakers. Protection against liability already exists for landowners who allow public access to their land for outdoor recreation. The bill would add railroad properties and rights-of-way to the lands whose owners are eligible for protection against liability. 

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.