Over a century ago, New England was intertwined by dozens of railroad lines, competing with
each other to transfer people and items to and from towns. In 1868 a railroad was built among lakes,
ponds, streams, and woods, with a plan to incorporate another way of travel out of remote Wolfeboro.
Before the railroad was built, most of the visitors traveled by train only being able to arrive as far as
Alton Bay or Weirs, then would continue by a steamer to Wolfeboro. The addition of the railroad
changed the pace of the little community and increased tourism forming Wolfeboro into a buzzing
summer resort town. Once freight service became unprofitable the station decided to close the line.
One hundred and fifty years later the railroad is still occupied and running but in an alternative way. Laid
out within and alongside the historical tracks, gravel paths were assembled to bring the once running
trails alive and active again.
The plans were put to action in 1992 to create recreational trails and the first of many miles
were assembled to establish the Cotton Valley Rail-Trail. Adventure seekers, families, outdoor
enthusiasts, and athletes of all ages visit and incorporate the rail-trail into their daily routines. The
Cotton Valley Rail-Trail supports many hobbies and activity’s throughout all four seasons. If you’re tough
enough to brave the bone-chilling New England winter weather, you may encounter people Nordic
skiing, mushing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling. As soon as the rail-trail thaws and summer approaches
bikers, runners, walkers, and wildlife watchers populate the trail while discovering the beautiful
landscape along the way.
The Cotton Valley Rail-Trail is a continuous twelve mile multiuse trail that begins at the eastern
shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, NH and ends in Sanbornville, NH’s restored railroad
Turntable Park. Along the first half of the rail-trail starting in downtown Wolfeboro, you will go past Back
Bay where benches are placed by the water perfect for watching the water ski competitions or remote
control sailboat regatta’s. You will see breathtaking views of the mountains on the waters horizon as you
cross Lake Wentworth that will make you want to stop to admire the vista’s beauty. You will come
across Albee Beach, Wolfeboro’s public beach where stopping for a swim, bathroom break, or a seat on
one of their picnic benches in the shade may be convenient. Continuing on the trail you’ll find Fernald
Crossing, another train station that’s been preserved by the members of the Cotton Valley Rail-Trail
Club. The club is joined by local railroad enthusiasts in the town who came together in 1992 to pursue
their hobby in railway motor cars. The club not only runs these motor cars on the railroad, but also have
devoted their time to preserve the property and equipment maintaining the railway so they can
continue operating the cars, so don’t be alarmed if you hear a train coming!
Passing by Fernald Crossing the trail becomes less populated by people and more populated by
woodland and wildlife. The tranquil setting of the forest and reduced business creates a venturesome
atmosphere for the remainder of the trail. Among the trees you may spot single-track trails just after
Fernald Crossing where Wolfeboro Singletrack have begun to build a multi-use trail system designed for
mountain biking. Following the trails heavily wooded path may provide an opportunity to encounter a
verity of New Hampshire wildlife along the way. Brooks, ponds, and marches throughout the trail
provide homes and resources for the wild animals. If you’re lucky you may occasionally spot beavers
building their dam, blue herons perched by the water’s edge, Bufflehead ducks, turtles sunning on a log,
or geese. If you’re on the trail early in the morning theirs a likelihood of a passing glance at deer, black
bear, fox, or moose before dashing off into the woods. If you feel like taking a break or resting by the
scenic wetlands along the rail trail, benches and occasional picnic benches are provided throughout the
trail close to every mile.
From Cotton Valley Road to the end of the trail you’ll spot more wetlands and brooks as you
travel towards Sanbornville. You’ll continue to wind you’re way through more green and quite
woodland. At the end of the trail you’ll reach Turntable Park where the historical rail-road turn table still
remains. Once used as a device for turning locomotives so they could be moved back in the direction
from which they came from, a great destination to end you’re twelve mile trip.
The Cotton Valley Rail-Trail wasn’t always twelve miles long. In 2014 the completion of two
miles of the rail trail by the Wakefield and Brookfield Trails Rails actions Committee was celebrated with
a ribbon cutting. The final two miles marked the completion of the Cotton Valley Rail-Trail and joined
two trails together to be used as one. The trail originally connected from its occurring location in Back
Bay and ended six miles later at Cotton Valley road where the trails were connected. Wakefield, NH
completed the two miles of rail-trail from Turntable Park to Clark Road in Brookfield, NH. The
construction was a two year effort. Without the Cotton Valley Rail Trail Club, volunteers, fundraisers,
and organizations the rail-trail wouldn’t be the beautiful trail it is today and for generations to come.
The Cotton Valley Rail-Trail has a lot to provide. From the fantastic glimpses of railroad history
to its mountainous backdrops, lakes, countless ponds, and wildlife, the rail-trail provides you with the
whole Lakes Region experience. Many visitors from around the world have come to Wolfeboro and
experienced this trail and what it has to offer. Whether you’re spending you’re day on the trail, going on
an adventure, or commuting to work, you’ll find the Cotton Valley Rail-Trail has a friendly charm and
clean attractiveness creating a sense of community no matter where you came from. The rail-trail has
carried and navigated passengers long-ago, today, and will continue doing so for many years to come.
Author: Molly Ingram