The New Hampshire Department of Transportation and the U.S. Highway Administration have ruled that all-terrain vehicles are prohibited from a 2.7 mile rail trail through the city.
“Though we could not find anything in writing that clearly spelled that out,” City Manager Guy Santagate said Monday, the state and federal agencies say it was understood when the city paid $185,000 for the trail over a decade ago.
If the city were to pay another $285,000 to the government it would own the trail outright, he said. “We own it as long as we don’t violate any of their requirements,” he said. Wednesday night City Council members agreed to apply to state and federal officials for a waiver to the ruling.
The nearly 3-mile stretch of trails sits in the middle of a 58-mile stretch of trails, said Sullivan County ATV club treasure Dianne Harlow. The club formed 14 years ago and has been using the trail ever since. The trail and activities and fundraisers held by the ATV club attracts ATV riders from all across New England, she said.
A local resident raised the question at the state level that ATVs were not supposed to be used, Santagate said. Harlow said the same resident unsuccessfully worked to stop snowmobile use of the trails in the past.
She and her fellow club members decided it was best to not ask the city for a permit this year and instead ask the city to apply for the waiver. As users of the trail, club members try to be good stewards, holding trail cleanup and brush clearing events, she said. “We’ve put a lot of investment in the trail,” she said.
Like walkers and cyclists that use the trail, the ATV club members are taxpayers, but more than that, they pay city and state vehicle registration fees that also go to support the trails, Harlow said.
If the waiver is not granted, ATV users will go up north to use undivided trails, which is unfortunate since riders often from Connecticut and Massachusetts often come to Claremont to use the trails and spend money in the city, filling up on gas or eating out, she said “If they can’t ride the rail trail they would just as soon go up north,” Harlow said. “It’s taking away from the economy down here.”