Labor Day is almost here, kids are back in school and summer is winding down. Before Kennett High School’s parking lot became jammed with cars and buses, Peter (Minnich, my husband) and I decided to check out the new Ravine Trail near the school. An article in Tuesday’s Conway Daily Sun told us the 1.4-mile interpretive multi-use trail had just been completed.
The Ravine Trail was funded by White Mountain Trail Collective and supported by Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, school administrative personnel, Tin Mountain Conservation Center, Mount Washington Valley Trails Association, Town of Conway and others. Recon Trail Design constructed it. Wednesday’s milder weather prompted us to load up the mountain bikes and go explore.
After turning right on Eastman Road, we turned right again after the police station onto Meetinghouse Hill Road, taking that to Smith-Eastman Park. We planned to ride the original Conway Rec Path along the Saco River until we reached the turn toward the high school.
There, we would bear right and follow that Rec Path section through woods until we crossed over the powerlines and made the last connection to the high school. Once we reached the high school parking lot, we’d turn right and follow the road to where the bus parking lot. I knew from previous explorations that’s where we’d find the new trail.
We were riding what I call the “Old Conway Rec Path.” In the early 1990s, a group of citizens and the town came together to create this Conway Rec Path. It went from Smith Eastman Park, followed the Saco River west and then turned north to go over Pine Hill, ending at Route 302 in Redstone. It existed way before the high school was built in 2007.
The original sign and map still exist near Route 302 and Walmart. It’s dated 1992 and was placed there by the Conway Park and Recreation Committee. It shows non-motorized trails, except for winter snowmobile use. A description tells how “the town’s pathways have been made possible by the generosity of private landowners and donations of money, materials and voluntary labor by local businesses, organizations and individuals.”
The future vision of that group was, “In time, we hope to expand this trail system to connect all the Conways and the adjacent towns.”
Today’s Mount Washington Valley Trails Association Rec Path Committee has a similar idea. As stated on their website (mwvrecpath.org): “It is our dream to see a family-friendly recreation path stretch from Fryeburg, Maine to Bartlett, N.H. and beyond.”
In the next few years, the valley will see these two ideas coming nearer to fruition as the new rec path is built and the old rec path is expanded and connected to it. From there, who knows where the path will go!
Starting at Smith-Eastman, we pedaled across a grassy park and rode over a ramped bridge. The trail starts a bit rooty, but mountain bikes can handle it. A plan is in place to improve the trail surface here to make it more “user-friendly.” That would help.
Along the way, we passed many dog walkers. The trail along the river is shady and scenic, with good river views and access. It’s a pleasant place to recreate.
After we passed under the Route 302 bridge, we found many interesting places to stop. There’s a figure four tree on the right kids of all ages like to climb. Odell Falls is a good place to stop and watch the river and look for trout. We always stop to check out the water level monitoring station and the cable platform across the river workers use to get over to check that equipment.
At the arrows pointing right for snowmobile trails and the Conway Rec Path, we kept going straight, taking a spur of the Rec path that goes to Lamplighter’s Beach. Many years ago, in “Trek for Tots” and later “Bike for Books” fundraising rides, we rode across this beach and keep on going along the river until we got to Davis Park. That was before developments along the river cut off access.
Wednesday, we turned around at Lamplighter’s and found our way back to the Rec Path. As we headed toward the high school, we came upon a freshly laid gravel surface. Somebody was working to improve the trail. It wasn’t as washed out and wet as we remembered it.
At the powerlines, we pedaled straight across to pick up the last spur to the high school. When the new high school was constructed, this section was interrupted and a rocky drainage ditch made crossing rough. Later, Mount Washington Valley Rec Path Committee used grant money to construct a bridge over the ditch and widen the trail to make it easier to get to the high school.
At the school parking lot, we turned right and pedaled over to an orange mini-excavator. It marked where the Ravine Trail work had been done. We turned left and enjoyed the four-foot-wide, fresh-packed gravel surface that took us into the woods and down towards the ravine. A sharp turn to the right led us down a granite curbed ramp to the new bridge over what some call, “Cold Brook Fjord.” The 30-foot pedestrian bridge provides access to Kennett softball and baseball fields and trails beyond. It’s quite impressive!
Riding out of the ravine, we followed the trail around the perimeter of several playing fields. The Ravine Trail ends at the junction with Eagle’s Way and the Old Rec Path. That trail goes to Redstone/Route 302 crossing. Riding to that spot, we confirmed the original rec path sign was still there.
Backtracking, we pedaled back to the high school to satisfy my curiosity about the other end of the Ravine Trail. I knew Upper Saco Valley Land Trust, which now manages the Pine Hill Community Forest, planned to connect the northern end of the existing Conway Rec Path along the Saco River up to high school with a reroute and regrading of the path. Using new packed gravel, it will provide a multi-use traveling surface that will facilitate access from Smith Eastman Landing.
Following the Ravine Trail right from the parking lot, following the fence along the track, we encountered the Recon Trail Design mini-excavator. The operator was hard at work, smoothing down gravel and making tracks toward that Rec Path connection. The hope is to have that work completed this September. It should make for smoother riding back to the park.
The old Conway Rec Path is getting a much-needed facelift and improvement. The Ravine Trail has added new connections, making it easier to navigate the Pine Hill area for all users, in all seasons. With the improvement of the old Conway rec path and the future addition of the “new” Conway Rec Path, valley residents and visitors will enjoy safer, traffic-free opportunities for travel and recreation for years to come. Thank you to all the people and organizations that are working together to make this happen!
This weekend, go explore the new twists and turns of the old Conway rec path with your friends and family. It’ll be a good way to escape the hustle and bustle of town.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.