Orchard’s proposed trail trade meets opposition from Lebanon residents, Enfield officials

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-04-2023 4:58 PM

LEBANON — A proposal by owners of a family farm that would discontinue public access to a collection of trails that cross the family’s property is facing opposition from city residents, as well as the town of Enfield.

Under a proposal by the Patch family, who own 150 acres of forested land off Route 120, the city would discontinue four historic roads — Barden Hill Road, Durkin Road, McCallister Road and Atherton Road — that are used for recreation and pass through the Patches’ property. In exchange, the family would create a public recreation trail north of Barden Hill Road that they would turn over to the city, along with an easement that could be converted into a parking lot.

The proposal is intended to settle a legal dispute between Patch Orchards and the city over the use of the four roads. For years, the Patch family has asked the city to discontinue the roads because snowmobiles and other traffic on them require the family to elevate or remove maple sap lines that cross over the trails.

Over 20 residents attended a meeting on Wednesday for a presentation of the new trail proposal to the City Council.

“We tried to come up with a proposal that was literally a ‘win-win-win’ for everyone,” Brad Wilder, attorney for the Patch family, told city councilors. “Yes, there will be benefits for my client, but there will also be benefits for the city of Lebanon and benefits for the public.”

Wilder, the city’s attorney Matthew Decker and Lebanon mapping coordinator Mark Goodwin guided the public through a presentation that included more than 30 photos taken of the existing trails. The presentation also included two videos of the route of the proposed trail that were filmed from an all-terrain vehicle. (The presentation is available to be viewed on the city website.)

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The proposed trail would connect Route 120 and Methodist Hill Road and measure just over 1.3 miles. It would be “one rod,” or 16.5 feet, wide, according to Wilder.

Photos of the existing trails were taken by city staff during a walkthrough of the Patch Orchards property on July 18. Goodwin, who presented the photos, frequently noted that the rights of way have not been well-maintained. Some paths were so overtaken by vegetation that it was difficult to determine the trail direction, while some ground was so saturated with water from the recent rains that it was challenging to cross.

The worst section, according to Goodwin, was on Atherton Road near the intersection with Route 120.

“Whatever the historic roadway was there is now a half-stream and half-road that sort of jump on top of each other,” Goodwin said.

Decker said he took videos of Goodwin “struggling to bushwhack through the weeds” on the McCallister trail, which he submitted to the city but declined to present.

Residents who attended the presentation said they are still wary about closing the existing trails, even if a new one is built.

Kelly Marsh, who lives on Route 120 near the Atherton Road intersection, said she bikes the trails through the Patch Orchards property and would like to see them remain accessible to the community.

“They are ancient treasures that should be maintained,” Marsh said in an interview after the presentation.

Others at the meeting were concerned the orchard would use the roads abandoned by the city for commercial development.

Marsh contended that the photographs of the trails were not a fair representation of how they appear most of the year. Vegetation is at its peak in July, for example, and the pictures were taken in season with heavy rainfall.

Town officials in Enfield also oppose the proposal, as Atherton and McCallister roads connect to Class VI roads in Enfield.

David Fracht, chairperson of the Enfield Planning Board, said the Enfield portion of those roads is an integral part of the town’s master plan to develop recreational activities, such as hiking, snowshoeing or horseback riding. If Lebanon discontinues Atherton and McCallister, Enfield will be left with “roads to nowhere.”

“It’s a nice off-road system and a trail for getting between Enfield and a part of Lebanon,” Fracht said. “I think it would be a travesty to lose that.”

Last month Fracht and Rod Taylor, Enfield’s administrator of land use, sent a letter to Lebanon officials urging them not to close the roads.

Fracht said an Enfield town representative will attend an upcoming public hearing on Aug. 16.

The Patch family, who purchased the land in 2017, have long contended that the trails are private property, since there are no known records that show the city declared these trails public rights of way.

But the city argues that years ago these roads would have been made public highways “by prescription” — an informal method in New Hampshire that established roads as public if they were continuously used in that manner for at least 20 years.

The proposed compromise was developed between the city and the Patch family during mediation, in effort to avoid a court trial.

The public hearing will take place in city hall at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.