BERLIN – Organizers and law enforcement officials yesterday conducted a critical review of the recent Jericho ATV Festival as planning gets underway for the 2013 festival. There was unanimous agreement that the festival, which ran Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28, was a major success.
But the group, chaired by City Councilor Roland Theberge, also identified a number of problems that must be addressed to make the event safer. Those issues include the need for better signage, more volunteers, and reducing complaints about juvenile riders on city streets.
Figures show that about 500 people participated in events on Friday and about 1,200 attended on Saturday. Officials estimated several hundred riders used the local trails but did not attend the actual festival. As hoped, riders took advantage of the city’s decision to allow ATVs on city streets to drive to area restaurants and businesses.
“It turned out to be a very good event,” said Eric Anderson, trail master for the Androscoggin Valley ATV Club, which oversaw the festival. Anderson said there were few issues at the festival itself. He said the club’s biggest problem was getting enough volunteers.
N.H. Trails Bureau Chief Chris Gouache said the state Department of Resources and Economic Development is talking about taking a more active role next year. He said both the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce and the city are also committed to playing bigger roles. At Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Paul Grenier said he will personally work with organizers to help the event grow.
Fish and Game Lt. Doug Gralenski said there was major confusion on Route 110 over where ATVs could travel on the road. The city had ruled ATV could ride on all city streets for the weekend. But the city’s authority ends at the urban compact line on Route 110 near White Mountain Distributors. Many riders assumed they could ride on Route 110 all the way to the park.
“There was a great deal of confusion over where to go,” Gralenski said. Eventually, Fish and Game assigned two officers on Route 110 to direct ATVs to the connector trail. In the future, Gralenski said volunteers should be in place to direct riders. He suggested other regional ATV and OHRV groups need to help with volunteers.
Theberge suggested in the future the city could name the specific streets that will be open to ATVs. Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency said the vast majority of ATV riders who came to the festival were here to ride and enjoy the park.
He said the problem for his department was the large number of riders, mostly juveniles, who traveled on city streets with disregard for the rules. He said police received approximately 50 complaints about ATVs during the weekend. He said the complaints included speeding, riding on sidewalks and private property, failing to use directional signals, and operating without helmets.
“Our issues came from juveniles,” said Morency. In many cases, the chief said parents were using the ATVs as “mechanical babysitters” and not regulating use by their teenagers. Morency said he recommended the city not allow juveniles without a driver’s license to operate ATVs on city streets. His recommendation spurred some discussion with Gamache reporting state statute allows juveniles 14 years and older, who pass a safety course, to operate ATVs on trail systems.
The group finally agreed to seek legislation that will allow municipalities to require a valid driver’s license to operate an ATV on town or city streets. Juveniles could ride only with a parent or guardian who has a valid driver’s license.
The group also agreed on the need for signage to mark connector trails and provide safety information. While the meeting focused on identifying problems, Gralenski noted the sport has a lot of potential for growth. He said it is important to put the organization in place to safely expand the festival. “There’s no problem that can’t be overcome,” he said.