ATV's OK'd by Stark

By Samantha McMann
May 6, 2015

The town of Stark has decided to open 10 miles of town road to ATV traffic bringing Phase 2 of Ride the Wilds–the opening of Corridor D/East-West Corridor from Groveton to Milan, one step closer to reality.

At the April 15 meeting of the Stark Select board they were presented with a petition to open these roads to ATV traffic. The board decided then that they would hold a public hearing on Tuesday, May 5, to give residents a chance to hear about the proposal and voice their opinions.  The public hearing was held at the fire station with well over a hundred people in attendance. Impressed by the turn out, Selectman Albert Cloutier reported that more people attended this hearing than he has ever seen at Town Meeting.

First there was a presentation by Harry Brown, President, North Country OHRV Coalition. Brown provided information about Ride the Wilds–1,000–plus miles of interconnected OHRV trails in Coos County.

He explained how this trail system has benefited the Coos County economy in several ways: such as increased profits for existing business, growth of existing businesses, and development of new businesses–creating jobs for Coos residents. Brown discussed increases in real-estate value if the property has trail access. He said that while the town of Stark currently has only a gas station and an inn that could benefit from the increased business, everyone would benefit from the “trickle-down economics.” Another perk he mentioned was easy access by ATV to local areas.

Brown told the audience about the steps taken to make Ride the Wilds work in other communities–OHRV classes, active trail patrol, appropriate trail signing, and cooperation from law enforcement (Forest and Lands, Local PD, Fish and Game, Border Patrol, State Police, Sheriff's Department).  He listed some challenges to opening the trail in Stark: local commitment, appropriate signage, controlling the renegades (locals are the biggest offenders), having an organization available to maintain the trail and limited law enforcement.

One of those challenges has been met. A new OHRV club formed last year in Milan called the Milan Trail Huggers. This organization has accepted the responsibility of preparing the Stark trail and maintaining it for as long as necessary.

Larry Gomes, Trailmaster and Trail Administrator for the Milan Trail Huggers, gave the next presentation. Gomes presented a map of the proposed trail which starts at the Groveton Trailblazers clubhouse, travels up Northside Road, Percy Road, Bell Hill Road, Dewey Hill Road, and Plain Hill Road to the town line–approximately 10 miles. He said that this road trail is just an interim solution to start the East-West Corridor.

They really want to get the entire trail up in the woods. The main obstacle is Nash Stream State Forest, which has a forest plan in place that is only renewed only every ten years or so with all of the existing trails all mapped out. “We cannot ask for more trails until forest plan is renewed,” said Gomes. After the Nash Streem hurdle, Gomes says he will Work with private landowners.

The plan is to do it in sections. He said that residents and camp owners would like access to the ATV trails. Gomes promised the crowd, “I will make a commitment to you–I am the guy you can call if there is a problem. I will give my number to the town office and to anyone who wants it. I know who to contact to make things happen. If signs are down, or we need more signs, or someone is going where they aren’t supposed to, you can just call me.”

Harry Brown interjected, “This will be part of the trail system. Therefore the state provides $2M policy for liability. In addition, there is aggressive New Hampshire law that pretty much absolves land owners and towns from liability unless it is gross negligence on their part.”  The floor was then opened up to questions and statements from the Stark taxpayers. Some of the concerns expressed were increased trash and litter, noise, dust, enforcement of rules, and despite Brown’s assurance, town liability.

Statements were made that most ATV riders are very diligent about taking out what they take in–referring to concerns about trash, and that ATVs are quieter than snowmobiles.

Stark resident and Fish and Game officer Wayne Saunders stated that he is “anti-trail-on-aroad” because OHRV’s state right on them “not for highway use” and he feels that if the town were to grant riders permission to operate them on the roadway then it may be liable if someone were to be injured. Town constable, Bill Joyce spoke against the trail related to the responsibility of policing it.

Many residents made recommendations to the board–for example: having a trial period, having a speed limit, having an age restriction, restricting the time of day, and requiring machines to have headlights on them.

A resident stated that he would like to know how many in attendance are in favor of the trail and how many are opposed. A quick show of hands revealed that the majority of the room was in favor and only a little more than a handful of residents were opposed.

On Thursday, the select board had its regularly scheduled meeting. They voted to adopt an ordinance for one-year permitting ATV traffic on the proposed route with the following restrictions: trail will be open when the Milan Trail Huggers determine it is ready but not sooner than May 23 and will close on November 1; Operators must be 16 years of age and posess a valid driver's license or OHRV certification; the trail will open 30 minutes before sunrise and close 30 minutes after sunset; speed limit for ATVs will be 20 mph.

At the same meeting, the board deliberated and decided to adopt an additional ordinance granting permission for landowners to operate an ATV on the roadway to access the East-West Corridor with the same restrictions as the previous ordinance--this is similar to what the town already has in place for snowmobiles.

This ordinance only pertains to town roads that are on the north side of the river. The roads include: Moose Pond Road, Cloutier Drive, Molly Brook Drive, High Acres Drive, Percy Peak Drive, Emerson Road, Nash Stream Road, Lee Hill Road, Bell Hill Road, Sullivan Drive, Leighton Meadow Road, Paris Road and Woodbury Cole Road.

After hearing the news, Harry Brown said, “This was an example of everyone working together and in support of another phase of Ride the Wilds becoming a reality. There are a few more hurdles prior to opening it up but it should happen this summer.”

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