Patch family offers public trails in pitch to end dispute over city rights of way

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-30-2024 6:00 PM

Modified: 05-03-2024 3:24 PM


LEBANON — A new proposal from the owners of Patch Orchards would create two public recreation trails across their property, if the city agrees to discontinue public access on other rights of way that the farm says interferes with its maple syrup operation.

The Patch family, which owns 950 acres of forested land off Route 120, is seeking a compromise with the city to end an ongoing legal dispute.

For years, the Patches have asked the city to discontinue existing city rights of way that cross the family’s property. Snowmobiles and other off road traffic require the family to elevate or remove maple sap lines that cross over the trails.

On Wednesday, the City Council will decide whether to hold a public hearing on June 5 to the family’s proposal.

“We are trying to reach a resolution that accommodates everyone’s interest,” Brad Wilder, an attorney for the Patch family, said in an interview.

In exchange for the city abandoning the rights of way, the Patches would build a new trail for public use that connects to existing trails to create a pathway from Route 120 to line with the Enfield.

The Patches also would build a new public trail that connects Route 120 to Methodist Hill Road and include a small easement for parking.

In the past, the Patch family has challenged the city’s ownership of these trails because there are no records showing that the city formally made these trails public rights of way.

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The city contends that the trails, which are used for activities such as hiking, horseback riding and snowmobiling, would have been made public highways “by prescription” — an informal method in New Hampshire that establishes roads as public if they have been used in that manner for 20 years — prior to 1968, when the state Legislature ended the method.

In promoting the compromise, Wilder noted the city could lose complete access to trails as a result of a judge’s decision if the case goes to trial.

A previous settlement agreement proposal — which would have created an alternate trail in exchange for discontinuing all four roads — was rejected by the Lebanon City Council last August. Councilors said they wanted to see an additional public trail in the agreement, one that incorporated portions of the existing roads.

Many city residents, as well as neighbors in Enfield, have expressed opposition to discontinuing the roads.

David Fracht, chairman of the Enfield Planning Board, said that he would like all existing trails that connect directly to recreational trails in Enfield to remain open.

Fracht suggested that the orchard either bury its sap lines or raise them higher to avoid damage from recreational vehicles.

Under the Patches’ latest proposal, snowmobiles would be allowed only on one of the two proposed trails. Recreational uses of the other trail would be limited to walking, hiking, bicycles, skiing, snowshoes and horses.

The City Council will meet on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

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

CORRECTION: Snowmobiles would be allowed on one of two proposed trails that would run through property owned by Patch Orchards. A previous version of this story was incorrect about where snowmobiles would be allowed.