RANDOLPH — Twenty-five Randolph residents were out on the
state-owned Presidential Rail Trail near the Appalachia trailhead on Thursday
morning, July 9, so they could intercept and talk to District 1 Executive
Councilor Joe Kenney, this despite only having 24-hours’ notice that he’d be at
Snyder Brook to follow up on a NHDES wetlands permit issue. Most townspeople are
opposed to opening up the trail in the summer and fall months when they and
visitors to the area use it for a variety of non-motorized recreational
Town moderator David Willcox pointed out to Kenney that at the 2014 town meeting, a majority voted “yes” on Article 19, placed on the warrant by a petition signed by 31 Randolph residents: “The residents of the Town of Randolph hereby record their opposition to any future non-winter use of the rail trail through this town by ATVs. Such use would deprive people of the ability they now have to use the trail for walking, biking, and enjoying peaceful scenery.
This is especially important for those less ambulatory, who still deserve to enjoy these beautiful areas.” A number of town residents, who have been concerned and dismayed at the ongoing decline in Coös County’s economy, have pointed out over the last year that the first rule of economic development is: “Don’t hurt what you already have.” In Randolph and elsewhere in lower Coös County this means doing nothing to discourage summertime hikers, who come to the area in droves to enjoy mountain climbing. Many stay at local motels, hotels, and campgrounds, AMC huts, RMC cabins, tent sites on the Cohos Trail, plus those who, year after year, visit friends and family.
A number of Randolph residents care for summer people’s cottages and these longtime visitors pay much of Randolph’s property taxes without receiving much in the way of services. Some choose to retire in town, bring their pension and Social Security dollars into the local economy. Many of the hikers start off their climbs from trailheads that abut the rail-trail and the WMNF. These backpackers believe they are on the edge of the wilderness; having to watch out for ATVs zipping by as they cross the rail-trail could shatter this illusion, discouraging these deep-pocketed outdoor enthusiasts from coming as far north as the Route 2 corridor.
Kenney, who carefully listened to his constituents, suggested it would be a good idea to have the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy undertake a study to see if hikers, cyclists, and ATV-OHRV enthusiasts can be accommodated in the same communities or on the same trails. The state’s acquisition of Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin seemed at first to satisfy the growing interest in ATVs and later the wider side-by-sides.
However, the “Ride the Wilds: 1,000-plus miles of interconnected trails” initiative kicked off a countywide system of ATV routes, most of which — like the railtrail — are not on forest trails but on paved and gravel roads. At a recent meeting in Stark, however, Coalition president Harry Brown of Stewartstown gave a PowerPoint presentation that outlined further trail development: “an East-West connector (Corridor F) in the bottom (southern reaches) of the system.” Another East-West connector — Corridor D — has just opened from Milan through Stark to Groveton. Lancaster’s ATV trail system is almost entirely on roads. Nonetheless, according to its Web site, the final piece of Corridor C is open, Groveton to Lancaster, making all the Corridor trails in the “Ride the Wilds” system open: A,B,C and D. Other Randolph residents also spoke up.
Barbara Arnold, a retired school nurse at the Ed Fenn Elementary School, said she is concerned about increased air pollution as well as the lack of enforcement that the few Fish and Game “fish cops” would be able to provide to control high-speed use of the corridor, given its lengthy, somewhat boring straight-ways. As it is, the speed of winter snowmobilers has virtually eliminated cross-country skiing on this route, according to several residents on hand.
Jean Malick explained that in the good-weather months she and Nancy Penney bike the rail-trail downhill to Gorham where they buy lunch at a local restaurant, spotting a car to make their return trip less arduous.
Roberta Arbree pointed out that she and her husband Bob Potter, a Gorham native, spend most of their discretionary income locally, which they would like to continue to do.
Although Alan Lowe of Lowe’s Gas Station did not speak publically, he favors having ATVs on the rail-trail, believing it would be a boost to his family-owned business, selling gas newspapers and snacks.
In the interest of full disclosure, reporter Edith Tucker lives on the north side of Route 2, not far from the Presidential Rail Trail on the highway’s south side.