New ATV Trails Encircle Huge Territory
Seen as a major boon to the region

June 12, 2013
John Harrrigan

The Berlin Reporter

This column was supposed to be about something else but I forget what, on account of being so engrossed in the evolving story of ATVs and the likelihood that northern New Hampshire will soon have the largest trail system in the country, and the only system that is a completely connected loop.

This means that riders---who mostly consist of middle-age parents and their kids or retired couples---will be able come up and ride hundreds of miles, for a three-day weekend or a week’s vacation, on a huge loop that will take them right back to where they started.

Is this a big deal? You bet. Couples and families will be able pack their duffles for a week, drive to Stratford of Gorham or Pittsburg, strap their gear onto the front and back racks of their machines, and take off on a trip through wild country that is not possible anywhere else in the nation. They’ll be able to make stops at lodges and eating places and stores and gas stations all over the North Country, lingering for as long as they like---and, of course, spending money.

Faced with the certainty that if they didn’t organize, rein in rogue riders and forge good relations with private landowners their sport was doomed, ATVers began scrambling to do just that two decades ago, and now there are scads of clubs all over the state. They are working with state officials, landowners and local law enforcement to set up a designated trail system and get a firm grip on scofflaw riders. This is exactly what visionary snowmobilers did a half century ago.

Due to the Memorial Day weekend’s cold and rain, two weekends ago was sort of a trial run. Local clubs had worked all last summer, fall and winter to get most of the segments of the giant loop trail squared with landowners, and this spring had finished marking and signing literally hundreds of trails. And ATV riders from all over New England had heard about it and flocked to the North Country by the hundreds, ready to ride.

Last week a ride up to Pittsburg revealed ATVs all over the place, on designated trails and particularly in town, where carefully negotiated agreements allowed riders, for the first time, to go into the heart of the village to do business with stores, gas stations and restaurants.

Pittsburg police chief Richard LaPlante said there had been no major problems over the busy weekend, just a few minor incidents involving local younger riders on roads where they weren’t supposed to be. Fish and Game officers helped him track down the miscreants and give them and their families a warning.

Trail organizer and sign poster Harry Brown reported much the same. Both men alluded to the fact that riders are supposed to truck or trailer their machines to reach authorized trails, and many riders, particularly young ones, have no way to do so.

This summer is definitely a first, and trail organizers and local law enforcement fully expect some wrinkles. But with such an enormous economic engine at stake, particularly one that can boost the economy for three seasons instead of one, the consensus seems to be at last March’s town meeting that the town can handle it.

Don and Carmella Kelsey, who occupy the apartment above the Trading Post and help their family run the store, had nothing but good to say about the carefully planned but sudden infusion of ATVs. “Nothing at all complaining about snowmobilers,” Don said, “because we like them and do a lot of business with them. But they talk a lot on how many miles they put on that day, and don‘t stop for long.”

He and Carmella gazed out through the store’s big front window at a crowd of ATVers gathered across the street while other riders, obviously observing strict posted rules on speed, maneuvered up and down the downtown’s sidewalks.

The ATV riders, Don said, are a whole new crowd, and seem to be in no particular hurry.

“They’re mostly families and retired couples,” he said. “They come in to shop, linger and visit.

Peter Keyser and family (he's the one on the right, with the Darth Vader helmet) of Pittsburg were among
hundreds of ATV riders seen around the area on Saturday, out enjoying new sections of trails that give
local riders and visitors unprecedented access to towns and businesses

 

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