Heritage Trail: How a group of neighbors helped reclaim prime recreational real estate for all to enjoy

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The Soukup family enjoying a portion of the Manchester Heritage Trail which they have helped to groom, creating recreational opportunities for all. Photo/Elizabeth Soukup


This year, my family has spent more time at home and around our neighborhood in the North End than ever before in the four years we’ve lived here. My wife Elizabeth and I have three children; Sadie (9), Sam (7) and Simeon (4). We have explored every available park in the city and State and have found great peace in the beautiful “3rd places” around our city (Livingston Park, Brookside, Tower Hill, and Stark Park).

Did you know there was a lesser-known but equally good place to go and get fresh air and socially distance for free? The Heritage Trail. The Heritage what? Yeah, The Heritage Trail, 6.1 miles of recreation trails along the Merrimack River.

Our family along with several other neighborhood families with children explored the trail in the fall. After walking through the old trail with machetes and coming out with thorn scratches and tick bites we felt sad that the trail was unusable.

We talked with neighbors and came to learn that the northern section of the trail ran through property owned by the State of New Hampshire.  In the 1800s, this land had been designated for recreational use for the citizens of New Hampshire. While we were allowed to use the trail, we couldn’t because of the overgrowth. More digging helped us understand that the trail had been maintained in the past by Sununu Youth Services Center staff and children as part of the RSA (law) that set the land aside for recreation use. Covid had resulted in dramatically lower bed counts and corresponding staff at the center preventing any trail maintenance.

Gallery: Scenes from the Heritage Trail 

Contributed by Jason and Elizabeth Soukup

Since we are relegated to stay at home these days, we were motivated to clean up an outdoor space where we could get outside and play with our dog and kids. We mobilized a group of volunteers and cleaned up the northern-most section starting at Stark Park to McCarthy Street.  This section is approximately 1.5 miles along the Merrimack.  We typically walk, ride, or cross country ski a round trip which gets us 3.1 miles.

Already we are seeing new life in the trails with XC skiers, snowshoers, and dog walkers. What better than to be able to Stay and Play, right here in Manchester.

Our vision is that other city residents will also come to love the Heritage Trail and that someday these trails will link to a broader vision we share of having a “Rail with Trail” along the Merrimack River connecting Nashua, Manchester, and Concord. For now, 3.1 miles of Cross Country Skiing and Mountain biking in the summer will have to suffice.

The refurbished Heritage Trail & Stark Park Loop along with updated map

The 6.1 mile Manchester Heritage Trail and Stark Park loop.

Please share with your friends as it is our hope that all the good people of our city can get out and use these beautiful trails.   Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are particularly good right now with the rolling hills and the fresh powder.  The trail also has a “packed” lane ideal for hiking and dog walking.

⇒ If you would like to join the fun and get involved as a volunteer, learn more at www.manchesterheritagetrail.org

Jason Soukup is a healthcare executive and active husband and father of 3 children living in the North End.  He loves Manchester and is active in a number of local initiatives to help make Manchester a great place to live.  You can contact him via this link.

More about the trail

Access points: Stark Park, River Road, Arms Park

HeritageTrailSign 1The City of Manchester has dedicated segments along the Merrimack River to the New Hampshire Heritage Trail Network.  The Heritage Trail is a trail program run by the State of New Hampshire to provide a link between communities and preserve recreational and historical corridors in New Hampshire.

Portions of the Heritage Trail are well-defined and accessible for walking and hiking.  Portions of the trail include the Riverwalk in the Manchester Millyard, which is paved and can be used for cycling.  The Heritage Trail continues South toward MerchantsAuto.com stadium, where it connects to the “Hands Across the Merrimack” bridge and the Piscataquog Trail.

Future phases of the Heritage Trail include developing a paved recreational trail from North to South, adjacent to the railroad corridor and defining the path through the millyard.  This trail will allow users from North and South Manchester to access the amenities of downtown Manchester without having to utilize motorized vehicles.

Map of the northern-most section of the Heritage Trail, about 3.1 miles of which Jason Soukup and his neighbors have worked on clearing.

If you go, Pro Tips:

  • Access point #1.  Stark Park
  • Access point #2.  River Road & Rowell Street
  • Access point #3.  Chabat Center, River Road
  • Access point #4.  Ward Street
  • Access point #5.  Chauncey Avenue
  • Points of interest: The Kitchen on River Road –  coffee, cocoa, sandwiches, and to-go food.

Gallery Highlighting Trail Improvements

Photos by Elizabeth Soukup

Relevant RSAs to the NH Heritage Trail

RSA   215-A:3 Bureau Responsibilities. 

IV (d) Coordinate the development of the New Hampshire Heritage Trail designated in RSA 216-A:11.
RSA   216-A:11 New Hampshire Heritage Trail. – Pursuant to RSA 4:43, the general court hereby designates and names the trail as authorized by RSA 216-A:7 and 8 as the New Hampshire Heritage Trail.

RSA 216-A:7 Conservation Corps Established. – The director of the division of parks and recreation, in cooperation with the commissioner of the department of health and human services, shall establish a conservation corps for the purpose of employing New Hampshire youth with an emphasis on employing young people who need educational and vocational assistance to perform successfully in school, in their communities, and in their personal lives. The services of these young people shall be used to create a hiking trail extending the length of the state or such other resource management and conservation projects deemed appropriate and necessary.
Source. 1988, 265:1. 1994, 212:2. 1995, 310:182, eff. Nov. 1, 1995.
RSA 216-A:8 Purpose. – 
I. The conservation corps program is designed to increase the sense of involvement and ownership by the participants in their state and to give them an opportunity to contribute something of lasting value to the state, by creating a new recreational resource for the state. 
II. The general court finds that because of the impact of a steadily growing population, the continuing development of land for residential, commercial and other purposes, and the loss of shorelands for various purposes, fewer opportunities exist for the citizens of New Hampshire and visitors from other states to enjoy recreational activities in natural areas in this state. Therefore, to fill a major gap in the state’s existing trail system it shall be the policy of the state of New Hampshire to create, foster, maintain and promote a recreational trail generally following the Connecticut, Pemigewasset, and Merrimack rivers from the Canadian border to the Massachusetts border. 
III. If, in the judgment of the advisory committee established in RSA 216-F:5, temporary segments, alternate segments, or feeder segments of trail are identified that would enhance the development of the New Hampshire Heritage Trail, such segments shall be eligible for participation in all of the provisions of this subdivision.
Source. 1988, 265:1. 1990, 263:1. 1996, 221:1, eff. Aug. 9, 1996.

MULTI-USE STATEWIDE TRAIL SYSTEM    216-F:5 Advisory Committee

I. The commissioner shall appoint a New Hampshire statewide trail system advisory committee, for the purposes of advising the director of parks and recreation on matters related to the New Hampshire statewide trail system. The members shall equally represent the different trail interests involved and the general public. This committee shall include, but not be limited to, representation from the following: the bureau of trails; department of fish and game; office of strategic initiatives; department of transportation; governor’s commission on disability; New Hampshire Snowmobile Association; a representative of Granite State ATV Association; Appalachian Mountain Club; New Hampshire Municipal Association; Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests; the New Hampshire Heritage Trail; the New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation; the New Hampshire Horse Council, Inc.; the New Hampshire Mushers Association; a representative of landowners; and the bicycle trail coordinator from the department of transportation. 
II. OHRV trails, snowmobile trails, the New Hampshire Heritage Trail, and trail planning and development shall be specific items on the agenda of this advisory committee. 
III. The advisory committee shall meet at least twice annually.

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About this Author

Jason Soukup

Jason Soukup lives in Manchester with his wife, Elizabeth, and outdoorsy kids. He serves as President of Manchester Moves Inc., a 501(c)(3)  neighbor-to-neighbor organization with a stated mission of connecting Manchester to all of NH through trails and greenways. Learn more here.