ALBANY, N.H. (AP) — The Lower Falls Recreation site is one of the most popular along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, a four-season destination that offers great swimming in the summer and brilliant foliage in the fall.
That popularity has a downside and after years of visitors tramping over the site, Lower Falls will close starting Monday for renovations that will make it safer and protect the habitat. It's expected to reopen in mid-November.
"It's been very loved," said Colleen Mainville, a spokeswoman for the White Mountain National Forest, which the 34.5-mile Kancamagus cuts through. "The trail network is going to be better defined. They'll relocate the soil so it goes along a path to make it clear to visitors that they need to stay on the path. Vegetation has been impacted, and trees are dying."
The "Kanc," as it's affectionately called, is a key draw in the national forest, which annually attracts about 5 million visitors. There are several waterfalls accessible from the road, four of which are most popular: Sabbaday, Rocky Gorge, Champney and Lower.
Brian Johnston, the assistant district ranger for the Saco District of the forest, asked for patience from visitors and suggested they plan to visit other attractions in the forest.
Besides the more clearly defined pathways, the project will:
— Protect the Swift River from sedimentation and road-salt runoff by installing drainage in the parking lot.
— Provide more landscaping to create buffers between the Kancamagus and the recreation area.
— Improve accessibility throughout the site, including an viewing platform and access to a picnic pavilion that dates to the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s.
— Improve sightlines in and out of the parking area.
— Renovate a small guard station that will serve as an information booth alerting visitors to safety concerns, among other things.
— Add sidewalks to separate vehicles from pedestrians.
— Provide space for emergency vehicles and motorcycles.
"All in all, I think we're going to see some real benefit from an environmental point of view and well as a public safety point of view," Johnston said.
Glen Builders from Conway has been awarded the contract for the roughly $615,000 project that is paid for through park fees and grants from the Federal Highway Administration and Natural Resource Conservation Service. The basic contract is for $434,000 with an additional $180,000 available for options.