Meredith Village Pathways Committee chair Andrea Bourn and member and former chair Liz Lapham on the trail the committee has worked on since 2012. (Photo by Erin Plummer) (click for larger version)
July 03, 2020MEREDITH — In 2012, a group of town volunteers started planning for a possible trail going along the edge of Hawkins Brook that people of all ages and abilities could enjoy. Eight years of planning, fundraising, work, and dealing with a few snags later the Laverack Nature Trail at Hawkins Brook is now complete and open for anyone to use.
The trail measures around a sixth of a mile from the back of Meredith Village Savings Bank to the upper field at Prescott Park was finished on June 19 and is already getting a lot of use.
Recently members of the Meredith Village Pathways Committee held a guided tour of the new trail, giving its history and stories of all the hard work that went into this project.
The trail starts behind MVSB on Route 25 with a 1,490-foot boardwalk alongside Hawkins Brook, then turns into a 1,267-foot gravel path through the trees, ending at the tennis courts at Prescott Park. People who travel on the path can find a plethora of trees, plants, birds, and animals in and around the brook. People walking down the trail have spotted otters, blue heron, and many other forms of wildlife. They have walked around wildflowers, yellow birch, and a part of the boardwalk going through ferns.
"One of my favorite parts of this trail is right around the corner when you walk through the valley of ferns," said Village Pathways Committee chair Andrea Bourn, who said a year ago they had to physically part the ferns in that area.
Everyone from families with small children, older couples, and people who work in businesses along the trail can be found walking across the boardwalk and down the gravel trail enjoying some physical activity and moments outside.
In 2012, the Meredith Village Pathways Committee had completed two major projects: a walking map of Meredith Village followed by a historic walking map. Committee member Liz Lapham, who chaired the committee at the time, said they gave a presentation on these projects to the Meredith Rotary. After the meeting she said Rotarian and Conservation Committee member John Sherman approached her.
"Put his arm around my shoulder and said, 'Hey, Liz, I've got a project for you. You've got to look at this area behind the shopping center,'" Lapham said.
Lapham and Bourn later went out to that area in kayaks and saw what Sherman was talking about. When they came back they ran into MVSB president Sam Laverack, who asked what they were up to.
"I said, 'Well, Sam, we're checking this out as a possible in the village walkway,'" Lapham said.
The committee worked on a feasibility study of a possible path. They wanted to have a path where people of all ages could walk and enjoy the surrounding wetlands and wildlife. That area has a number of different wetlands and natural habitats. They wanted the path to be accessible for people of all ages and abilities, including people in wheelchairs, using walkers, pushing strollers, or any other mobility device.
The findings were presented to the selectmen and the concept received a lot of support. A fundraising campaign started shortly after with the committee looking for donations and grants to make the path a reality.
The project cost around $600,000, and Bourn said all except for $70,000 from the town came from donations and grants. The trail received a few grants totaling around $170,000. A number of businesses, organizations, and individuals donated to the effort, including a generous donation from the Meredith Rotary, Meredith Village Savings Bank, and many others.
Lapham said Carol Gerken was instrumental in getting funds and frequently contacted potential donors.
"A lot of the big donations that came in were due to her," Lapham said.
One of the trailheads was named after Gerken.
The project received the support of the town and the abutting businesses including MVSB, Crosspoint Associates (who owns the shopping plaza), and Meredith Bay Village.
The committee also worked with teachers from the Inter-Lakes School District for the trail to be a multidisciplinary outdoor classroom. Students could walk down the trail from the schools and use the area to study science, math, art, writing, and many other subjects.
The trail was designed and engineered in 2016, and a Request for Proposal went out in August of that year. Timber & Stone of Montpelier, Vt., who has designed trails across the northeast, was the winning bidder.
"We selected them because they're very ecologically sound," Lapham said. "Anything they do they don't disturb."
Laverack retired from MVSB in 2018 after 32 years at the company. Mutual Bancorp, which manages MVSB and Merrimack Savings Bank, wanted to make a significant donation in Laverack's name to honor his years of service. The company then gave $200,000 to the trail, resulting in the name the Laverack Nature Trail at Hawkins Brook.
Construction started right in 2018 right after Thanksgiving.
The boardwalk is made of black locust wood and was installed with helical piles put into the ground, which displaces little of the natural material.
The project did hit a few snags, including the discovery of a huge hole that had to be addressed, which resulted in a fund shortfall for a while.
The naturally surfaced trail was finished in the summer of 2019 and work continued on the boardwalk into later that year. Lapham said the company wanted to wait until the water was frozen so they could use sleds to deliver tools and materials. The boardwalk was 100 feet away from completion when the pandemic hit and all work stopped in late March.
Due to travel restrictions in Vermont, Timber & Stone could not travel to New Hampshire to complete the project. When the pandemic started to die down and restrictions eased the company came back and completed the path using kayaks.
The project officially ended on June 19 after 4 p.m.
The trail consists of 1,490 feet of boardwalk leading to 1,267 feet of naturally surfaced trail through the woods. There are also a few overlooks and a small outdoor classroom with seats.
The trail ends at the upper field of Prescott Park, but members of the committee said people can then take other paths and roads in the adjoining areas.
Lapham said the committee's charge is to create interconnected walking paths in Meredith and this project certainly works toward that goal. She said it's remarkable for this small committee to spend so much time and effort and accomplish this.
A few education signs and information kiosks will be installed.
A formal dedication celebration is scheduled for July 13 at 10 a.m.