by Donna Jordan
The Colebrook Chronicle
The Northumberland Selectmen heard over two hours of testimony from around 60 members of the public who had come to their meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the board’s recent closing of Page Hill Road to ATV traffic. Page Hill Road is the Lancaster connector for the Kilkenny Trail Riders ATV system, and the club was disconnected from the new, interconnected Ride the Wilds trail system when the road was closed.
The meeting opened with selectman Jim Tierney expressing his feelings that he was not in favor of opening up any town roads for ATV use. “ATVs belong on the trails. I’m not in favor of opening up the streets,” he said.
This was followed up by selectman Michael Phillips, who said, “On that score I am in the same place.” After making their opening statements, the selectmen opened the public meeting, recognizing they had “plenty of public” to hear from.
The first to speak was local businessman John Nugent, who owns a store in downtown Northumberland. “All the other towns in the North Country have allowed ATVs town wide,” said Nugent. “Groveton seems to be the only town that doesn’t allow ATVs to go to businesses. I own businesses in North Stratford and Colebrook and the ATV traffic makes a big difference,” he said. “This ATV thing is a very big thing to happen. It’s like probably opening up a couple of factories. I’ve seen a big difference with ATVs coming in. You can’t rely on snowmobiling with the climate that changes. With ATVs there is a longer season.
It’s probably one of the best things that has happened to the area. ATVs should be allowed town wide and be able to go to every business,” said Nugent, to which selectman Tierney repeated, “They should be allowed to do it on trails, not on streets.”
Northumberland resident Bob Reynolds stood to speak in favor of reopening Page Hill Road, telling the selectmen it is how he and several others in town make their living. “There are seven of us that work at the dealership in Lancaster that live in this town,” he said. “The mill is no longer there. We needed to come up with a plan B—this is plan B. This is knocking on the door saying we should be welcoming them. People want to drive to Lancaster, stay in Lancaster, and Ride the Wilds to the northern part of the state and ride back. I’d like the selectboard to get Page Hill back open,” he said.
One couple who live on Page Hill Road came to express their concerns about the dangers of ATVs riding on the same roads as vehicles and expressed the hope that there would be more safety regulations in place before allowing ATVs on public highways.
A great concern for them was the safety for youth, notably if safety belts or car seats or helmets were required with ATVs—the answer was that under age 18, everyone needs to wear a helmet. Another questioned if it was legal to hold a young child in a lap while riding on an ATV; Northumberland Police Chief Marcel Platt answered that according to the state laws, child restraints are the same for an ATV as for a motorcycle.
The selectmen agreed to open Page Hill Road last July for a one-year trial period, explained selectman Jim Tierney. During that trial period, a complaint came to the selectmen, and that is why the section of road was closed. The selectmen had made the decision at their meeting two weeks ago to close the Page Hill Road to ATVs following a prop erty owner’s complaints that he and his horse had been injured requiring stitches for the horse after several ATVs had scared the horse while the owner was riding him. That resident, Brian Conners, was at the meeting on Tuesday night, and after everyone had spoken, he took his turn, standing in the front of the room to address everyone. “I am the reason you are all here tonight,” he said.
He explained that one day, while he was riding his horse, which he often did on the road, she went through a barbed wire fence, dragging him through as well after being disturbed by the ATVs. “I have made numerous complaints (about ATVs) to the police department, nothing ever happened,” he said. “I used to take my horse and buggy riding down to Lancaster to get groceries and then come back home. No problems. One Friday afternoon, seven four-wheelers start circling my buggy and my horse. She went up over a rock wall, came down over the top of the buggy, landed on me, got hurt, stove the buggy all to pieces, dragged me 20-30 yards down the road.
I called the police department. Who showed up? Nobody. I called the police department a half an hour later because the same seven four wheelers that had gone down to Lancaster came back and circled me again. My damage is my horse—which is now dead. I lost a lot with that horse. She was four and a half years old,” he said with obvious passion. “The state of New Hampshire has given people with four-wheelers the right to ride on the road, but they haven’t educated people. What’s the speed limit on Page Hill Road? (He asks the audience.)
“It’s 30,” responds one woman. “It’s 30?” asks Conners. He then turned to Police Chief Marcel Platt and asks, “Marcel, what is it?” To which Platt replies “It’s 10.” “It is 10mph,” said Conners. “It is posted at both ends of the road,” making a point to the audience that “it’s not the people that come to the North Country, it’s the people up who live here. I lost $2,500 on a beautiful horse.
The bottom line is, there is no law enforcement. Marcel, have you ever seen the four-wheelers underneath the power lines doing donuts? Have you ever seen the skid marks?” At this point Selectman Jim Weagle gave Conners his personal phone number and urged him, if he has any problem, to call Weagle and we will “deal with it.” Conners concluded, “Why don’t the people in the clubs get people educated, get them to slow down so you can have a safe trail, so I can have a good life? That’s all I’m asking.”
After hearing all public comment, including a presentation from Harry Brown, President of the North Country OHRV Coalition, Chairman Jim Weagle made a motion to open the trail back up for one year, with self patrol and monthly updates to the board from the Kilkenny Riders club. “That could be in the form of an email to me saying ‘this is what we accomplished, this is what we helped with,’ whatever,” said Weagle. “I’m willing to work with it any way we can. It’s a vital part, I would just like to see when we have a problem, we figure it out and try to work on it together.”
The motion was seconded by selectman Jim Tierney with the stipulation that the trail could be closed at any time that complaints come in. “It’s not a solid one year, regardless of what happens,” he said. Weagle added to Tierney’s stipulation that the trail could be closed at any time that complaints come in if the club does not address the concern to the board’s satisfaction.
Tierney agreed, and the motion was passed, 2-1 (selectmen Michael Phillips opposed the motion). Members of the Kilkenny Riders club added that the selectmen need to make sure they are made aware of complaints prior to any action taken by the selectmen, so the club members can help to address the concerns.
At their next meeting, which will be on June 9, the selectmen will have on their agenda a discussion about a proposal to allow ATVs on multiple in-town roads.
Some 60 people were on hand at Tuesday night’s Northumberland Selectboard meeting to talk in favor and against the town’s recent decision to close
Page Hill Road to ATV traffic. You can see highlights of the meeting in the Video News of the Week at www.colebrookchronicle.com. (Donna Jordan photo)