Millsfield ATV Club trailmaster Emile Croteau and his wife
Rita of Berlin received the 2015 Trail Worker Award from American Trails, which
announced the winners at the 22nd International Trails Symposium last month. The
award is given in recognition of contributions in trail planning, maintenance or
The Croteaus are founding members of the Millsfield ATV Club, which formed in the mid-1990s, and Mr. Croteau has been trailmaster for over ten years. The couple spends most of their time from May to December at their camp on Millsfield Pond.
Mr. Croteau recalled when ATVs were becoming popular and camp owners started cutting their own trails. He said they were approached by Clint Savage of the N.H. Bureau of Trails, who suggested they start a club and seek out grant funds for trails. The new club applied for grants on a yearly basis, which allowed them to purchase equipment. The state furnished the club with a John Deere tractor, which Mr. Croteau said was a big help, and the club also bought a dump truck, a trail rake and trailers to haul everything.
The club asked permission from the timber companies who owned the land if they could build a trail. Mr. Croteau said in the first five years they had 30-50 miles of trails, and now they have about 140 miles, including roads approved for ATV traffic. Mr. Croteau said the club has advocated for the opening of public roads for ATV use. “We’ve been at that for quite a few years now and it’s proved to be very successful,” he said.
The machines have also evolved, and ATV riding has become more of a family activity, he observed. “Now we’re up to the size of a regular Jeep,” he said. “The side-by-sides, I’d say, have taken over.” Mrs. Croteau agreed, noting, “Now it’s a family thing--you can bring your kids, your dog, whoever.”
The Croteaus have worked with several different agencies over the years. “The reason for our success is definitely the Trails Bureau,” Mr. Croteau said. “Chris Gamache, Clint and his staff are the backbone of what we do.” They also have a good relationship with N.H. Fish and Game, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, and local landowners. “All the landowners in our area have been just terrific.”
The Millsfield club frequently works with other clubs, including the neighboring Umbagog ATV Club and Milan Trail Huggers, and the Silver Riders ATV Club. “If all the clubs work together we can do so much,” he said. He also talked about the importance of club volunteers, especially when it comes to grants. “We need to pay our portion, and that’s how club members help us.”
Mr. Croteau said the process of building a new trail starts when he contacts Mr. Savage, who then talks with the landowner; if the landowner gives permission, the club obtains a right of way for a certain length of time, and works with DES if there are any wetlands involved. He said it costs $10,000 to $15,000 to build an ATV trail, and along with accepting donations, the club also applies for grants. The club has to pay a portion of the grant, and he said this is where membership dues and fund-raising events are vital.
Once the funds are secured, Mr. Croteau says he is usually the one who decides whom to employ for the project, but if a landowner prefers a specific company then Mr. Croteau goes with the landowner’s wishes. Before the trail is built, Mr. Croteau walks the area with someone from the state and the landowner, and after trail construction the signs can go up. The amount of time it takes to make a new trail depends on the length and the terrain.
The Croteaus are both retired, which means they have plenty of free time to go out on the trails, and Mr. Croteau says he listens to what riders want. “I’m not concerned about a rough trail, I’m concerned about a safe trail,” he said.
His first duty in May is checking all the trails to make sure they are safe. Last year there were several washouts, but this year there were only a few. The day before trails open, the Trails Bureau will put signs up on its trails, and the club is responsible for the side trails. “Not a year goes by without projects,” Mr. Croteau said, and this year work will be done on Deer Mountain, Five Bridges Trail, Hovel Trail, Cow Mountain Trail, Baxter Trail and Metallak Trail.
Rita also does plenty of work during the season, overseeing the annual poker run, gathering donations, selling tickets, and posting signs on trails and in businesses.
RECOGNIZED FOR TRAIL WORK
Emile and Rita Croteau received the 2015 Trail Workers Award from American Trails in recognition of their countless hours working for the Millsfield ATV Club. They were nominated for the award by Chris Gamache of the N.H. Trails Bureau. (Jake Mardin photo)
Most of the club’s trails are located around the pond, but they spread out over a large distance and riders can reach Pittsburg, Colebrook and other locations. “You can do a lot of riding,” Emile said.