Work Continues on Robert Frost/Old Stage Coach Byway

Elizabeth Robidoux, an Auburn resident and chairman of the Robert Frost/Old Stagecoach Scenic Byway Committee, is amused when she runs into people she knows and they ask her, “What’s going on with that thing you’re working on?” She’s happy to stop and explain “the thing,” a concept that will connect several Southern New Hampshire towns for economic and cultural benefit.

Robidoux, also Planning Assistant for the Town of Derry, recently gave an update on the progress of the Byway.

The Robert Frost/Old Stage Coach Byway is described as “a 44-mile route that winds through Atkinson, Hampstead, Chester, Auburn and Derry. It consists of two contiguous segments with distinct interpretive themes which highlight the scenic, historical, and recreational resources of the region.”

The route includes eight properties on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Robert Frost Homestead State Park, and the house of Matthew Thornton, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Atkinson went first, approving its Old Stagecoach Scenic Byway in May 2011. Its Main Street, now Route 121, was the primary stagecoach route between Boston and Manchester during the Colonial era.

Boards of Selectmen and Town Councils in all five towns endorsed the Robert Frost/Old Stage Coach Scenic Byway in winter 2012. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation gave it conditional approval on Nov. 6, 2013. The Scenic Byway must be approved by each town with a public hearing according to RSA 238.22.3.

The group is currently working on signage and sign locations for stops along the Byway, Robidoux said. Central to their activity: finding a source of funding. They are researching grants, she said, and some of the smaller communities will be approaching their Boards of Selectmen for an appropriation. She has not yet approached the Derry Town Council on the matter, she said.

The group is currently developing its Corridor Management Plan, Robidoux said. It’s a kind of mini-Master Plan, she said, laid out according to a template from the Federal Highway Administration.

“We are listing the structures of significance along the route, the history of each town, why it’s on the Byway, and the ‘intrinsic values’ or key places to stop,” she said. “These include historic resources, cultural resources, natural resources. We are also required to include a traffic study.”

The committee is also in the process of designing a logo to connect all the attractions and towns, according to Robidoux.

And as with everything else, there are funding issues. “Our communities only have so much disposable income,” she said.

Robidoux added that the committee has lost its Atkinson representative and will be addressing replacements with the Board of Selectmen.

The committee consists of two representatives from each community, Atkinson, Auburn, Chester, Derry and Hampstead, plus Scott Bogle of the Rockingham Planning Commission and Adam Hlasany of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission. “Their help has been invaluable,” Robidoux said.

Robidoux said she is encouraged at the progress. “We are moving forward,” she said.

The next meeting is Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Derry Municipal Center and the public is welcome.