By Julie Huss
---- — They run with the smooth pavement beneath their feet, or walk or stroll on packed dirt or gravel.
Supporters of local trail systems like it both ways —surfaces suiting those who love to ride, bike, walk, jog or ride a horse.
In Londonderry, the all-volunteer Londonderry Trailways group is ready to start paving a section of a trail connecting Sanborn Road and Symmes Drive.
It’s part of an overall project connecting portions of the town’s trail system to the larger, regional Granite State Rail Trail, that will eventually be connected from the Methuen-Salem line all the way to Lebanon.
But paving plans are upsetting to some trail users, who prefer a natural path.
Voters in March approved a petitioned warrant article to spend $227,000 to support the paving project in North Londonderry.
Other trails in town remain unpaved. There is something for everyone, Trailways supporter Pollyann Winslow said.
“Trails are used for different purposes,” she said. “Trails are in different areas of town and offer a natural setting for those seeking solitude or for whatever purpose they want.”
She said Londonderry Trailways has no intention of paving every section of the community’s trail system.
“Trailways is not interested in paving all its trails,” she said. “It’s an all-volunteer organization and there is no way we would be able to fund paving.”
Winslow said the planned paved section in North Londonderry is part of the regional project. Other trails in town, including the Musquash Conservation Area, historic trails near the Town Common and other scenic areas are still in their natural state, with packed gravel surfaces instead of asphalt.
Londonderry trails are popular for different reasons.
Trails near schools give teachers a chance to take a walk during a break. One trail leading from the middle school to the Moose Hill School gets a lot of use during the school year, Winslow said.
Other people want places with more shade, trees, nature, and not along a definitive paved route. Weather plays a role, too. Pavement is better suited for dismal days, she said, when rain can mean mud on gravel trails.
“There is scenic value to not paving a trail and keeping it natural,” Winslow said. “Many people like it that way.”
While Londonderry works to get its first portion of the contiguous rail system paved, Derry remains ahead of the curve with miles of trail already paved.
Erich Whitney of the Derry Rail Trail Alliance said the group wanted to pave because of easier maintenance and volume of use.
“Stone dust trails require annual maintenance when you get the kind of use we see in Derry,” he said. “Also, paving allows not only all types of bicycle tires, but skateboards, rollerblades and scooters.”
He said he would have loved to include a stone dust shoulder for horses, but there wasn’t enough room without making major changes — and spending significantly more money.
Chester resident Mike Corey has used local trail systems on several occasions. A few years ago, prior to Derry finishing up a paved section, he said travel was tough.
“There were sections of the Derry trail that were almost impassable because of the bad surface. They needed to do something,” he said. “There’s also something to be said for paving, rather than gravel. If someone has a stroller or a road bike, gravel is really tough after a while. The expense is considerable, but it probably increases usage.”
John McGarry is a member of the Greater Derry Track Club. He said he and other runners enjoy the local trails for training and recreation.
“It is one of the best parts of living in Windham, Derry or Londonderry,” he said. “Before the Derry section was paved, it was overgrown and sandy in many places. It was difficult to run and impossible to bike in some sections. Any section that was packed gravel did not continue for long.”
He said runners enjoy the different surfaces.
“The beauty of the rail trail is that it is flat, it is paved and there are no cars,” he said. “Runners can also run alongside the paved part of the trail if they are looking for less of an impact on their feet.”
Winslow credited all trail supporters who work hard to make the community systems something the towns can be proud of.
“Volunteers are very dedicated and they want so much to see this done,” Winslow said. “But we have no intention of limiting multiple uses on the trail.”