Only the first one-tenth mile of the dirt lane is currently a Class IV highway, which means the town is only responsible for the maintenance of that portion’s culverts and bridges. Johnny Cake Hill’s occupants are hoping to have that classification extended to a quarter mile, and have brought the subject up numerous times in the past, most recently in December 2012. According to selectboard chair Teddy Hopkins, the selectboard decided to take the matter up on their own, as past petitions by residents have failed to meet certain requirements, and the board wanted to wait until a warm time of year, which would provide a better ability to assess the wants and needs of the residents.
Full-time resident Michael Bisceglie says that when GPS came into use, he discovered that at some point, Johnny Cake Hill Lane had been left off the town’s road maps. As the road’s residents began to pursue getting the road onto the town maps, they also decided to pursue extending the Class IV highway classification onto what is currently considered a town trail. Bisceglie said that he and other residents have done a good job maintaining the lane’s water runoff for decades, with the last washout occurring in 1985.
Bisceglie also said the town would benefit greatly from maintaining a further portion of the road due to the actual amount of this runoff. “We’ve been maintaining the road to Class IV standards already,” said Bisceglie. “When you drive it, you don’t know you’ve left a fourth-class and gone onto a trail, but there’s a tremendous amount of water runoff because the road is a high point. Before we took care of the road it would pour down and take out main roads.
“We’ve been happy to maintain it and will continue to, but if the town helps with the water it’s a huge benefit to the town and to us.”
Johnny Cake Hill Lane is approximately 1.5 miles up West Hill Drive from the intersection of Branch Hill and Bosley Hill roads. Where the dirt lane reaches a quarter mile, there’s a turnaround spot where a trail continues to the Massachusetts border. Residents are hoping that along with reclassifying the first quarter-mile of road to the turnaround, they would also like the trail beyond the turnaround to be classified as a town trail.
The selectboard performed a site visit on July 20 to assess the feasibility of reclassification, followed by a public hearing. At the hearing, the board read an email from superintendent of public works Barry Howes, which detailed the road’s needs. According to the meeting’s minutes, Howes stated a need for more drainage, ditching, and waterways to divert runoff, and named a possible location for this drainage, on resident Brian Rudge’s land, where an old logging header exists.
The selectboard is currently deliberating the matter, and while he would not speak on what has been said in those deliberations, Hopkins said the town must weigh the cost to town residents, which includes surveying the road, and annual maintenance, as well as the location of new drainage. “In a perfect world, if we could cherry-pick where we wanted to put culverts it would be easier, but the further downhill the water runs the more steam it picks up, and we need to make sure residents are fine with water being cast on their land.”
Bisceglie said that he is happy the issue is finally being addressed, as residents of the road get older and are less able to maintain the road. “We feel, as of now, this has been a good example of the town and its citizens working well together,” said Bisceglie. “One more reason I think Johnny Cake Hill should be extended another little bit is because the name is just too good for only a tenth of a mile,” added Bisceglie. “I always thought the road was named after the traditional New England pancake but have been told it is actually named after a freed slave who took the name Johnny Cake. There’s some great history up this way and all of us here on this road and trail want to preserve as much of it as we can.”