The Gateway Loop
Over the last year, the Durham Economic Committee discussed downtown redevelopment, land conservation, agriculture, and housing. The goal has been to find a way for the pieces to complement each other and help achieve the vision of the town's master plan. As I was out riding my bike recently, I thought a field trip through a loop of Durham, Newmarket, and Lee could help provide some context to future conversations. The Gateway Loop is about 21 miles and, in my humble opinion, is best experienced on a bike. If that is not your cup of tea, it also makes for a great Sunday morning drive.
I divided the ride into 7 regions and snapped some photos of each one. Below is a biker's perspective on each section. Here is a link to directions.
1. Wedgewood Neighborhood
When we were moving from Chicago in 1998, we were looking for an affordable house in the Oyster River School District. We found a 70's classic in the Wedgewood neighborhood. It is a family-friendly region between Longmarsh and Durham Point road with nice wooded lots. In the 22 years since we arrived, most of the homes have been modernized, and older residents have been replaced by younger families. The newer, upscale section on Sandy Brook has larger lots and homes.
2. Durham Point Road
Just after a small uphill on Sunnyside, a right turn puts you on Durham Point Road. This is an amazing stretch of a winding road. It is mostly densely wooded, with a few subdivisions. Just after Dame Road, As you get past the awesome drop, some very fancy homes have spectacular views of the Bay.
As you enter Newmarket, Durham Point Road changes to Bay Road. The Nature Conservancy helped put several beautiful parcels in conservation easements. The first is Cove Hill Farm. The photo on the right is a view of a 16.7 acres easement purchased in 2007 for 1.37 million dollars. Just down the road is Lubber Creek Preserve. Through a cooperative land stewardship effort, there is a hiking trail that extends all the way back to Sandy Brook.
The last great view of the Bay is from the meadow to the Nature Conservancy office. It is an expansive open field that stretches down to the Bay. The photo on the left does not do the real view justice.
Durham Point/Bay Road ends just before the Macallan Dam. Chinburg Properties rehabilitated the old mill in the center of the downtown, and it now houses 112 apartments and 30 businesses. This helped spark more development, including a shopping plaza. The ride up Elm Street goes by apartments and multifamily homes.
As you get closer to Packers Falls Road, the housing transitions to single-family homes. Just after the junction of Main Street, you will see the newly remodeled high school/ middle school. It took 20 years to pass the bond.
4. Route 152
Route 152 takes you out of Newmarket and into Lee. Multifamily and small single-family lots give way to larger open lots. There are some older farmhouses and barns on this strip, but agriculture appears to be a thing of the past. At the junction with Lee Hook Road, a right turn brings you to the active farm stretch.
5. Lee Hook Road
Over the last two years, the Durham Agriculture Commission developed some zoning revisions. Up until this point on the tour, agriculture consisted of small gardens and a few chickens. Lee Hook Road offers an interesting transition from single-family homes to working farms. The photo above shows a greenhouse and hooped, raised beds and acts as a buffer from the smells of the dairy farm down the hill.
The Burley-Demeritt Farms is just past Little Hook Road. UNH purchased the 130-acre property in 1969. It is currently used as an organic dairy farm, and due to its significant Lamprey River frontage, is a focus of conservation efforts.
As you continue on Lee Hook, you pass by several more farms and a campground. Clearly, the value of the land here exceeds the value of the agricultural output. In Durham, this area would be considered a gateway and would spur a discussion of conservation versus development.
6. Wednesday Hill Road-Packers Fall Road.
The ride back to Durham on Wednesday Hill Road offers a mix of subdivisions and larger open space. Just before Wednesday Hill Road merges with Packers Fall Road is the 15-acre Thompson Forest. It is part of what was once a 200-acre dairy farm. Durham acquired the property in 2017 and has been working with NH Fish and Game to manage the property.
7. Bennett Road
Just after a steep right-handed turn, the tour takes a sharp left on Bennett Road. This stretch offers a great view of the Lamprey River and some interesting businesses. The first is the Thompson Inn and Cyderhouse. The 60-acre property, once one known for its apples, has undergone an extensive renovation. It now serves as an inn and event space.
Further up the road is Liberty Hall Farm. Theresa Walker, Chair of the Durham Agricultural Commission, raises Romney Sheep and sells the yarn spun from their wool.
Just past the 87-acre Doe Farm parcel is the LaRoche Farm. This is a multigeneration farm that is run by the recently retired, long-time public work employee, Ray LaRoche. Ray has expressed concerns about how hard it is to balance high property taxes with running a small farm.
The last point of interest on the tour is Whale Rock Farm. Durham Agricultural Commission member Ellen Karelitz and her husband bought the property a few years ago and are working the land to make it an active farm again.
The junction of Bennett Road with route 108 marks the end of the tour. After all that sightseeing, a breakfast or lunch stop in downtown Durham is in order. Check out the offerings