CLAREMONT — Claremont residents and officials were recently caught by surprise when a land conservancy group began constructing a parking lot off a city road without communication.
Claremont resident Deborah McNeil, who lives on Bible Hill Road near the Charlestown border, said she didn’t know about the plans by neighboring property owners, the Upper Valley Land Trust, to build a trail-access parking lot until logging and construction vehicles began to pass through about three weeks ago.
“I couldn’t understand why logging trucks and dump trucks were coming up,” McNeil told the Eagle Times Tuesday. “The [land trust] didn’t notify us about the project.”
City officials also didn’t learn of the project until construction was already underway, explained City Director of Planning and Development Nancy Merrill.
The city ordered a stop to construction as building off a city road requires approval from the city council under state law. The council also tabled the discussion until Wednesday, June 24, where councilors hope to speak directly with the Upper Valley Land Trust and property abutters.
The extension also allows the city to compile more information regarding the road, whose history isn’t completely clear.
In 2017, the nonprofit conservancy based in Hanover received 1,100 acres of forestland from longtime Charlestown residents Harvey and Christina Hill. The property, known as the Up on the Hill Conservation Area, crosses from Charlestown to Claremont and includes a five-mile trail network that runs through Jenkins Forest.
The Upper Valley Land Trust wishes to build a trail-access parking lot at the Claremont entrance to the land, at the top of Bible Hill Road. The Claremont road entering the conservation area is listed as a Class VI road. In New Hampshire, a Class VI road is a discontinued road that the municipality does not have the duty to maintain.
According to one Bible Hill resident Brandi Stringer, the section of road had been maintained by a former neighbor. However, the family no longer resides at the property and she doesn't know who will take over the road’s maintenance.
State law allows a private party to maintain a Class VI road with permission of the municipality. However, the city council must give written permission to excavate or disturb the ditches, embankments or road surface, which has already occurred with the construction so far of the parking lot.
The city is also looking into whether a previous city council, believably around 1998 or 1999, had redefined the road into a trail.
Jack Yazinski, who lives on Bible Hill Road, said that until two years ago the road had been gated off and used by recreational four-wheelers and hikers.
Merrill said that if the road was reclassified as a “trail,” automobiles aren’t allowed to be on it unless the city council changes it back.
The only known records to indicate the road’s actual definition appear to be in recorded meeting minutes from the 1990s, according to Merrill.
“Sometimes things that happened 20 or 30 years ago don’t get moved forward,” Merrill said. “So it may change what we have to present to the council.”
Merrill said it isn’t unusual for municipalities to dig into historical archives for information, including road records before modern technological advancements like Geospatial Information Systems (GIS).
The city council also wants to hear from the abutting neighbors who have concerns that include littering, monitoring activity and traffic.
The top portion of Bible Hill Road is narrow and unpaved, McNeil said. The dirt road emits a lot of dust when dry and extremely muddy and difficult to travel during the Spring thaw. Increasing traffic on the road will exacerbate the wear.
Stringer said that the construction trucks had traveled on Bible Hill Road despite the road being closed to thru traffic until Saturday, May 23, due to mud season.
The residents also want to know who will monitor the area for nuisance activities. Litter is a recurring problem on their road and sometimes illegal dumping. The addition of a parking lot may draw additional congregating by people looking more for seclusion than recreation.
The Eagle Times attempted to contact the Upper Valley Land Trust but were unable to receive a response by time of publication.