Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hampton to Portsmouth: A Test of Character

For most of his life, Mad Dog lived in Washington, DC, and whenever he would meet someone from overseas he would ask, "So what is different about living in America?" It did not matter whether the ex-pat was from England or Italy, Germany or Spain, Norway or France, he or she always said the same thing: "You Americans: You drive everywhere!"

This was usually followed by a deep sigh and then a flabbergasted look: "If there is a 7-Eleven a half mile down the road, you will drive down there, for a loaf of bread and a quart of milk!"

New Hampshire, for the most part, is not pedestrian friendly. You can walk on sidewalks in Hampton or Dover or Portsmouth, but outside of the commercial centers, any citizen fool hardy enough to walk or bicycle much beyond town center takes his life into his own hands.

Mad Dog has now walked or skied nearly the entire length of the abandoned railroad bed from Hampton to Portsmouth and he is convinced it would be wonderful space for a paved bicycle, walking, roller blading path. 

But it is a big project. Pulling up all that track and hauling it away, preparing a surface for paving, laying down the asphalt, whew! There are about half a dozen homes within sight of the path. Those owners may object. There are about half a dozen industrial properties along the way, mostly in Hampton and Portsmouth; again, there may be resistance from the owners.

Mad Dog has learned from the many people who saw two letters in the Portsmouth Herald supporting the idea of a bicycle path free of cars, there have been prior efforts to convert the rails to a trail. None have succeeded. 

This is one of those things which define a community, its leaders and its character.  A bicycle path would not be used by the vast majority of its citizens. It would be available to all, but used by less than 10%, at least at first.

But it would, like the ocean, become part of what draws people to the Seacoast and what makes it vibrant. 

How do you put a dollar value on what it would mean to have a 10 mile refuge from the automobile for  families, for exercise addicts, bicyclers, roller bladders, walkers, runners, bird watchers?

You may note the Mad Dog omits "hunters." One hopes hunters would be excluded from this swath. Not that Mad Dog has anything against hunters--but he does not like hunters shooting off guns along a path where children ride bicycles.

You have to say that in New Hampshire. Hunters by law may hunt on the Sagmore Creek 100 yards from Route One and along the Urban Forest trails where mothers and children walk their dogs.  Somehow hunters' rights take precedence over family rights in New Hampshire. But Mad Dog digresses.

The fact is, this effort is going to be made again. We are told the likelihood is there will be meetings, petitions, hearings and ultimately, no action.  It is usually easier to do nothing than to create something. We'll see what New Hampshire is made of in the upcoming weeks and months.


  1. Mad Dog,
    You are pretty industrious to have walked or skied most of the track to Portsmouth --it's good to hear there are not that many nearby commercial and residential properties. Hopefully neighboring property owners will realize that once the state purchases the land, development of some sort will always be looming. One would think they'd rather a bike path than a road and see that non-development may not be an option. Construction of a bike path, although a big task, would be less time and less disruption than an auto road and that fact should also sway neighbors.

    Hopefully a group is formed once the land is purchased to advocate for the best use ( bike path) of the property--the two letters in the Portsmouth Herald were a great start to keeping the public informed...

  2. Maud,

    Stay tuned. Rumor has it Chris Muns may organize a walk from Portsmouth and from Hampton, meeting in the middle of the railbed, half way. That would be a 5 mile hike to the middle.
    Mad Dog has no experience in community organizing. Perhaps we ought to get Mr. Obama to consult.

    Mad Dog