Communicast: Manchester is the linchpin to NH Rail Trails and the Granite State Rail Trail Corridor

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From left, Jason Soukup, Tom Sexton and Garrett Mclarty heading out along the trail. Photo/Keith Spiro

MANCHESTER, NH – On October 16, 2021, the New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition (NHRTC) held an all-day, state-wide, Zoom video-based conference with representation from the many organizations and individuals across the state working to create and maintain trails.

The NHRTC Mission is to promote the development, maintenance and active use of trails constructed on New Hampshire’s railroad corridors and to help New Hampshire assemble a world-class system of rail trails for four-season active use.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a national organization, was represented by Tom Sexton, the regional director of their 10-state Northeast office. RTC opened its doors in 1986 and works to bring the power of trails to communities across the country. With more than 1 million grassroots supporters, 24,000+ miles of rail trails on the ground nationwide and more than 8,000 miles of rail trails ready to be built, their focus today is “linking these corridors—creating trail networks that connect people and places, bringing transformative benefits to communities all across the country.”

Sexton joined the conference to talk about the importance of completing the “major spines” that each state has and its importance in protecting the integrity of safe, multi-regional trail access.

He followed up on October 18 with an in-person visit to Manchester, New Hampshire, meeting up with Manchester Moves team members Jason Soukup and Garrett Mclarty and touring the local works in progress.

Along one segment of the Manchester Rail Trail. Yes, they are still in the city.  Photo/Keith Spiro

View the video below for Tom’s comments:

Why is the Manchester corridor so important?

New Hampshire’s major spine is the Granite State Rail Trail and its biggest gap is from Concord to Manchester.  it is the segments within the City of Manchester that have become the focus of the all-volunteer Manchester Moves organization.

Greg Bakos of VHB presented this slide detailing the Granite State Rail Trail and the Manchester Projects within it.

Why are Rail Trails Important?

Much like the Appalachian Trail protected open space to connect a 2,193-mile trail from Maine to Georgia, the RTC is helping bring reality to The Great American Rail Trail. This is a safe, seamless and scenic pathway connecting historic routes between Washington State and Washington, D.C.  New Hampshire adds to that vision with The Granite State Rail Trail. This is a mostly off-road route from Lebanon to Salem. Currently, the longest section of this trail is the 57 contiguous miles from Lebanon to Boscawen.

Communities with developed rail trail segments have seen increased recreation and commerce around outdoor activities these trails support. In addition, the pandemic these past two years have shown the importance of having access to safe outdoor places to walk, ride and maintain an active lifestyle. These trails get use in all four seasons, winter included.

Jason Soukup, representing Manchester Moves, spoke at the conference. In a short interview afterward with #Communicast he outlined their involvement in three key accomplishments in 2021:

  1. City of Manchester commitment to advance Rail Trails
  2. Brokered a conversation between the City of Manchester and CSX Rail – the new owner of local freight track in the areas where future Rail with Trail options could be explored
  3. Manchester’s Master Plan now includes the Rail with Trail (or trail alone) in the City Plan.

What does the change of rail ownership to CSX mean for Manchester?

With CSX completing the purchase of the local freight lines, the City and Manchester Moves are hopeful for a more cooperative relationship between a rail freight company and the options for closing the gap on the Granite State Rail Trail.

For more details on shovel-ready projects at Manchester Moves click here

For more details on Getting outdoors with the help of Manchester Moves click here

A 1993 version of RTC’s directory of Rail Trails got Tom explaining how far the organization has come. (L to R) Keith Spiro, Tom Sexton, Jason Soukup. Photo | Garrett Mclarty

Full Disclosure: I was a member of the Rails to Trails Conservancy in the early 1990s and purchased one of their first Rail Trail Guides. I dug it out of storage to show Tom Sexton during his visit. Even back then, I was fascinated by the concept of city/rural rail trail travel and the history these trails can preserve.

About this Author


Keith Spiro

Advisor & ContributorManchester InkLink

Business Strategist, Community Builder with a keen interest in working with high-impact startups and other organizations that can make a difference in community and health.