Taking part in what has become a growing trend here in the North Country, the selectmen in Northumberland recently approved allowing ATVs to travel on some downtown roads. The decision came after a public hearing held just before their regular June 9 meeting, when 3 members of the public attended.
By the end of the meeting, the vote was 2-1 (selectman Mike Phillips voted against the motion) to allow ATVs on Melcher Street, Main Street, State Street (ending at the town pool), and Station Square. The portion of Main Street and State Street that is state-owned will need state approval—which is expected to come today (Friday).
Allowing the use of these streets for ATVs will end on Dec. 1, 2014—according to town ordinance. Speed limits on these streets need to be followed according to state law: no OHRV is allowed to travel any faster than 10 mph on any Class I-Class VI highway (considered town roads) when the OHRV is being operated within the right of way of the highway.
Groveton also allows ATV travel on Page Hill Road, where the speed limit is 10 mph. Speed limits for an OHRV on approved trails is 45 mph, and on state highways, the speed limit is whatever is posted for that highway—generally it is 30 mph for a downtown area.
When traveling into a town like Groveton, for example, there are signs on Rte. 3 (a state highway) notifying drivers that the speed limit is 30 mph. “That is the continuous speed limit unless another sign changes it,” said Derek Snowman of the Kilkenny Riders ATV club. The same speed limits hold true for a town like Colebrook, where ATV riders can travel through the downtown within the public highway right of way.
Most of those attending the Groveton public hearing last week spoke in favor of allowing more ATV use on downtown streets. Local businessman John Nugent had presented the board with a petition with 110 signatures from those in favor of allowing ATVs downtown.
He said that the town should “grasp onto” the ATV business. Restaurant owner Megan Gibbs showed the board a photo of ATVs lined up in a parking lot across the road from her restaurant on Main Street, indicating how many will access a local business.
During the public hearing, resident Al Rossetto asked how the selectmen would be able to limit the ATVs to those roads which have been approved. Rossetto noted that his road is private and posted “No ATVs,” yet there are ATVs who attempt to use his road. The selectmen told him that the local police department will need to monitor the areas where there are complaints. Rossetto also noted that he has seen an increased presence of police on Page Hill Road, which helps in patrolling for ATVs that might not be following the laws.
Residents and members of local trail clubs have become more involved with trail patrol, citing as an example the reopening of a portion of Page Hill Road in Groveton which the selectmen had shut down recently.
The selectmen chose to close the road to ATVs after receiving complaints of some unruly riders on the road, and after one resident lost his horse that had been spooked by several ATVs. Just two weeks after the selectmen agreed to re-open the Groveton portion of the road, an ATV rider was stopped by a property owner on the road and accused of speeding and driving “irresponsibly,” according to a report from the Kilkenny Riders ATV club.
The club noted that the ATV rider’s registration was turned in to the Lancaster Police Dept. and it is anticipated that the rider will be charged. Snowman told the Chronicle that the property owner had agreed to write a statement on what they had witnessed. The club also issued a stern warning on its Facebook page: “If you are seen speeding or riding irresponsibly, someone will put serious effort into identifying you and turning you in to authorities,” reported the club. “If people pass the complaints onto us, we are willing to follow it up,” said Snowman, adding that the local Coos County Sheriff’s department have invested in a Polaris Ranger side by side, all lettered up with “Sheriff’s Department” and includes the blue lights on it.
Now, the Sheriff’s department can travel throughout Coos County and do ATV patrols with two officers in the ATV. “They are doing weekend patrols,” said Snowman. “If there is a problematic area, we can work with them to get them in that area.” Any law enforcement official can cite improper drivers, said Snowman, and a percentage of the fine that is paid goes back to the town.
“These funds can help pay for more patrols or maybe down the line a local police department can get their own ATV,” he said.
There also is a “noise” law for OHRVS, which need to fall under certain decibel levels. All OHRV riders are supposed to be aware of the laws and follow them—this includes no loaded weapons on an OHRV and no alcohol or drugs on an OHRV.
OHRV activity has increased in the state of New Hampshire during the past year, particularly in Coos County. In order to legally drive an OHRV on a public road, the recreational vehicle must be registered with the state and drivers need a motor vehicle license. Those registrations were up 12 percent last year. For Coos County, there was an increase of 13 percent in the rooms and meals tax, indicating more visitors to the area. This information has boosted the decisions by local town officials to consider allowing more public roads (not necessarily “paved) to ATV use.
Colebrook, Clarksville, Pittsburg, Berlin, Gorham and Lancaster have all approved the use of certain town roads for ATV travel in order to get from one point of a trail to another, as well as for access to downtown businesses.
On its Facebook page, the Kilkenny Trail Riders note: “As long as we are cautious, follow the rules and respect the machine you are riding, we can help boost our economies.” The club is expected to begin posting signs in areas where ATVs are allowed to travel, and members of the club have taken part in trail patrol courses.
Those who are on trail patrol will be wearing orange and black vests. They are not allowed to stop anybody as a law enforcement officer would, but, explained Snowman, “We have log books—and we report back to the state on how many units we saw, was anybody not abiding by the law. The law is seriously taken when you do trail patrol,” he said.
On Friday, the state trails bureau, N.H. DOT others are expected to be making their final decisions to allow ATVs on the state portion of roads that have been approved at recent public hearings in Colebrook, Groveton and Lancaster.
Said Snowman,“They have yet to say no to ATVs on a state road that a town has approved--that I’m aware of.” Town officials will be notified next week, and then the state trails bureau will be out on those roads installing proper signage.