This summer has been a sort of grand experiment for me, on
the ATV front. It is the first full year in which a section of the road that
runs right by my front lawn, South Hill Road in Colebrook, has served as a key
link in the thousand-miles-plus “Ride the Wilds” ATV system, a gigantic circular
series of trails unequalled by anything East of the Mississippi.
To say that the word has gotten out about this amazing new trail system is an understatement. Last year, even before the circuit was complete and even before any real promotion had been undertaken, riders from New Hampshire’s Southern Tier were already flocking to the North Country to take advantage of a whole new approach to the world of ATVing. In summary, the new approach allows ATVers to park their vehicles and trailers anywhere along the circuit, unload, and ride as long and as far as they wish on a multi-town system before returning to right where they began.
Even though ATV’s are not necessarily my cup of tea (I’d rather walk), my position for decades has been that when the state of New Hampshire took its first dime in ATV registration it began owing ATV enthusiasts something in return. In this it utterly failed for many years, building up a debt that eventually had to come due. And now the state has stepped forward, enthusiastically, to partner with local ATV clubs, landowners, entrepreneurs and owners of businesses big and small to make a long-held dream of “trailer-less” ATV touring a reality.
So having long argued that ATVs had a legitimate place at the Outdoor Round Table, I dutifully registered my four-wheel-drive Honda (previously possessed only for farm use), became a founding member of the Metallak ATV Club, stood up at town meeting and voted for the experimental road-link system, and waited to see what would happen.
And I can sum up personal observations, experiences, and reports from landowners and businesses: It’s far and away a 90-percent plus.
Items: It’s a treat to see machines going by packed fore and aft with luggage. This means overnight stays, and a great boost for the North Country’s economy.
---Acquaintances near and far say that the effect on business has been nothing short of astounding. An entirely new source of income has appeared during otherwise slow, between-season times.
---The vast majority of ATV passersby have been slow, safe and courteous. Waves and barnyard stops are the norm. Riders in it for multi-night excursions are the most likely to pull over to say hello.
---While the vast majority of “hot-dogging” riders — drivers behaving irresponsibly and dangerously — have sported no duffel on their racks, the flip side is also true. Hardly ever have I seen anyone on a load ed-up machine riding illegally or disrespectfully. However, a local conservation officer quickly set me straight on an easy assumption. Don’t assume that all unpacked, hot-dogging riders are local teens and 20-somethings, he noted. Often whole caravans of riders and their trailered machines come up from down below the notches and rent cabins to serve as bases for their too-fast, outlaw and dangerous riding — with the luggage left at camp.
While at this time of year there are vehicles passing by every morning, noon and night, ATV activity begins swelling Thursday mornings, peaking Saturdays and tapering off Sunday mornings as riders pack up for the long trip home. Here the impact of the four-day, 10-hour-day work-week’s soaring popularity is easily observed.
Duffel-packed machines are mostly gone from the trails by 5 p.m. or so, indicating, to me, that these most responsible of all riders have put their horses in the barn for the night and are out there somewhere, in any one of the dozen towns and locations served by this great circular trail system, ready to enjoy the late afternoon and evening in camps, motels, campgrounds, lounges and restaurants, their feet up for the night.
Last Wednesday afternoon, I sat out on my front porch for a while, ready and waiting for the right opportunity to put this story to bed, at least this chapter of it, in the form of an honest-to-gosh family, on vacation from away.
And along came, just at the right time, Arielle and Steve Renaud of Derry and their two kids Silas, nine, and Hazeljean, six, heading up South Hill (and right into my clutches) on their way to turn their rented machine in at Bear Rock Adventures and head for home.
They’d had, they said, a great time of it, their kids ensconced safely behind netting on their long-track four-seat machine. Helmeted all, they obligingly de-helmeted and got out for a roadside visit. Steve and Arielle have started out fast in their young lives, and own Stillwell’s’ ice cream shops in Hampton, Exeter, Raymond and Alton Bay, opening up a new one each year. It doesn’t take a great Internet guru to envision them soon running things from north of the notches by remote control, making periodic forays south to make sure the business is running smoothly.
They’d only stayed for one night, at the Northern Comfort Motel just south of Colebrook, but would (and will) be back in a heartbeat. “We just love it up here,” said Arielle. “We’d like to live here. Maybe some day.”
(This column runs in a dozen or so weekly newspapers covering two-thirds of New Hampshire from Concord to Quebec and parts of northwestern Maine and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or P.O. Box 39, Colebrook, NH 03576.)
Steve and Arielle Renaud of Derry and
their kids Silas, nine, and Hazeljean, six, doffed their
Darth Vader helmets long enough to take in the view and enjoy a barnyard visit at South Hill