History of the Cotton Valley Rail Trail

In 1872, the Eastern Railroad opened a branch line from Sanbornville to Wolfeboro to transport freight and passengers to Lake Winnipesaukee. The Boston and Maine (B&M) purchased the line in 1892 and ran it until 1936. The line originally reached Dockside where passengers boarded the MV Mount Washington and other boats to travel to inns and hotels around the lake. Before the automobile became the mode of travel, school children rode the train much the same way children ride school busses today. Wolfeboro had 6 stations on the 7 mile portion that lies within the township. There was even a “flag” stop on the Wentworth Causeway and islanders would leave their boats nearby, flag down the train and ride to town.

The stone removed from the rock-cut near Mast Landing was used in constructing the causeways. When first built the causeways didn’t have greenery on them. The trees and brush we see today present a challenge in maintaining the integrity of the trail. There are sheep pass-throughs under the rail line near Bryant Road and Cotton Mountain Road that connected the farmers’ fields.

Tourism & Trail Development

In 1972, a group of investors, The Wolfeboro Railroad, bought the line and attempted to restore freight and passenger service. While freight service never took off, the train ran successfully as a tourist attraction until it finally closed in 1986 after which the State of NH acquired the corridor. Soon after, the town purchased 1/2 mile from the State, the local Rotary Club provided the needed funding and volunteers to remove the rails and the Russell C. Chase Bridge-Falls Path was created.

History of the Cotton Valley Rail Trail

In 1992, Wolfeboro Pathways Committee considered developing a pathway along the corridor from Wolfeboro Falls through Brookfield to Sanbornville. There was a great deal of interest by all three communities for a cooperative effort to convert the corridor into a multi-use recreation and travel pathway. The Trails, Rails, Action Committee was born and adopted a logo and acronym TRAC , which recently became the Cotton Valley Trail Committee (CVTC). About the same time, the Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club (CVRTC), had  received state permission to use the tracks. These railroad hobbyists use the line for their motorized railcars between Wolfeboro and Wakefield. This use made it necessary to build the trail adjacent to the tracks except where environmentally impractical.

In 1993, residents from Crescent Point in Wolfeboro initiated further construction by fundraising in their neighborhood. With donated time, materials and equipment from a local contractor, the trail from Wolfeboro Falls to River Street was built. It provided the impetus for TRAC to move forward. During 1995-96 Wolfeboro Rotary provided substantial seed money and through volunteers and donated material the trail was extended to Whitten Neck Road.

In 1995, TRAC received a Federal Grant (ISTEA) of $250,000 to expand the trail. A 20% match was required. When local events did not yield sufficient funds to secure the grant, a 1997 major donor fund-raising effort brought success. Another $250,000 grant was received the following year for total of $500,000 for the design, engineering and construction. The leg to Fernald Station was built during 2000-2001. All required local match was raised from private sources. Additional state grants and donations funded improvements from trail expansion to upgraded surfaces. Two privately funded spur trails over town land provide safe access to Albee beach.

It proved challenging to expand the trail with Federal Grants. Because the NH Dept. of Transportation (NHDOT) initially owned and managed the corridor, TRAC was required to meet stringent guidelines requiring professional engineering for design layout for heavy duty bridge construction and surfaces that could accommodate heavier weights and usage. This also required more intensive wetland evaluations, archeological and architectural studies. It was several years before a satisfactory design was reached, a contractor hired and construction started. The Cotton Valley extension was funded by a TEA-21 grant and completed in 2008 which also required private matching funds.

The NH Bureau of Trails (NHBOT) took management of the trail in 2013. Under their guidance more rapid trail construction was permitted while still providing guidelines. The Committee became motivated to finish the trail to Wakefield, the long desired goal of the three communities. In 2013-2014 the stretch from Turntable Park in Wakefield to Clark Road in Brookfield was built with local community support. A two mile stretch east from Cotton Valley was completed in 2016. With state and federal funding and donations, the last 1.7 miles was completed in October 2017.  A Golden Spike Ceremony was held On September 30, 2017.

Maintenance and Uses

The rail car enthusiasts actively help us build and maintain the trail. However, the much longer trail increases the need for a large volunteer base for the maintenance and improvements . An Adopt-A-Trail Program was started and the response has been excellent but more help is needed, especially from younger people. These groups made up of clubs, families, neighbors and friends help maintain sections of trail to keep it safe and attractive. Others routinely pick up trash on their daily walks to help keep the trail pristine.

The Cotton Valley Trail is a year-round multipurpose recreational trail which is enjoyed by many. During the winter, snowmobilers share the trail with cross country skiers and snow shoers. NHBOT prohibits horses and all wheeled motorized vehicles, such as ATVs and motorbikes, except for maintenance and powered wheelchairs for those with disabilities. However, the trail is mostly used during the other 3 seasons. There are walkers, joggers, bikers, fishermen and bird watchers enjoying the beauty the path has to offer. It has been getting more use each year with people coming from distances to walk, run or bike the pathway. It provides a major health and economic benefit for our three communities.