ATV Boosters Carry the Hour at Hearing about ATV Usage on Public Roads
Gorham to open city streets to OHRV traffic during the Jericho ATV Festival

June 18, 2013
Barbara Tetreault and Gail Scott

The Berlin Daily Sun

GORHAM—A standing-room-only crowd at a hearing at the Medallion Opera House Monday came down powerfully in favor of allowing ATVs to use the public highways in Gorham so they can access local restaurants, motels, and other businesses.

Although Selectman Chairman Paul Robitaille allowed as how he would recognize one voice for and then one voice against alternately during the discussion, the voices for outnumbered the voices against.
At the end of the nearly hour-and-a-half hearing, the selectmen unanimously approved three motions.

Two motions were proposed by Selectman Bill Jackson:
1. that the Town of Gorham support the use of Routes 2 and 16 for ATV traffic as outlined in the proposal from N.H. Trails Bureau Chief Chris Gamache. This would open Routes 2 and 16 from the parking lot opposite the Multimodal Trail to the intersection of Bangor Street and Route 16, with the ATVs traveling at the prescribed 30 to 35 mph.

2. to have Gorham Police Chief P.J. Cyr develop a map, taking into consideration the snowmobile access that the town currently uses from side roads to the main roads.  "I'm looking at the intratown ability to access the state road," Jackson elaborated. "We would like to see PJ develop that map and get it to us in the next two weeks."

This second motion refers in part to a proposal by the Presidential ATV Club of Gorham to extend the Routes 2 and 16 approvals to a route along Bangor and other streets to provide local access to the Town and Country motel, plus other proposals to open local streets to ATVs so that local owners could ride from their houses to the trails. The thought behind such permission would be to relieve the parking crush at the lot on Route 2 where locals have to park their ATV trailers, taking up space that might more profitably be used by out-of-town visitors.

The third motion, proposed by Selectman Jeff Schall, is for the town to open up all town roads during Jericho ATV Festival Weekend (July 26-27) as a pilot study and to have the Gorham police monitor the activity. The proposal received enthusiastic applause.  Selectmen approved all three motions unanimously.

Another proposal from the floor to investigate opening the multimodal trail to ATV traffic got interest, but no definite follow-up.  According to Gamache, who spoke to the group, it would take action from New Hampshire's Congressional delegation to lift the federal ban on mechanized vehicles on the trail, which was built with federal money, as a possible alternate to the main route should Route 2 be flooded. The trail would bring ATV traffic from the parking place on Route 2 to Bellevue Avenue, by the Gorham Airport, and thereby to Main Street and the restaurants and motels of the town.

Gamache noted that New Hampshire Senators Shaheen and Ayotte are solidly behind development in the North Country and U.S. Department of Transportation Commissioner Ray LaHood is an OHRV fan, so the proposal might find a welcoming audience in Washington, D.C. 

Few offered cautions about letting ATVs cruise the state roads.  In a letter, Emergency Services Director Chad Miller, noted that the proposed route has heavy truck and car use—21 cars a minute in both lanes, one lane carrying a car every six seconds. "At the very least, the town's safety committee should monitor the use of the route," he wrote.

A resident of Jimtown Road noted that when he enters Route 2 at Jimtown Road, driving the 30 mph prescribed speed, he is just about overwhelmed by cars and trucks tearing down from Gorham Hill, often at speeds of 50 and more. Considering how safety conscious car buyers have become about having seat belts, air bags, etc., he marveled that the town would now say it's ok for virtually unprotected ATV drivers to enter the melee where many drivers of cars pay no attention to the speed limit. The same resident also cited how noisy ATVs are, noting that he works where there is ATV traffic and it's noisy. Considering how town residents complain about jake brakes along this stretch of the road, he remarked it seemed ironic that now the town considers allowing ATV traffic.

Another resident, listening to the multimodal option, remarked that having ATVs crossing Route 2 at that point would "open another can of worms."  And yet another asked what about the extra costs of signage and police patrols that allowing ATVs on the main roads would incur.

Gamache reassured her that the state provides signage—at this point Presidential ATV Club President Henry Sanschagrin showed off an attractive sign, supplied by the state, to the Ride the Wild communities up north. The state will also reimburse the town for ATV patrols performed by the local force, Gamache said.

At this point, Jackson noted that the selectmen, in their meeting preceding the hearing, had approved an application for an OHRV Enforcement Grant of $1,080 from the state, which likely would cover the costs of Cyr's investigation into the use of side roads.

The overwhelming number of speakers at the hearing were vehemently in favor of opening up the town roads. Some cited last weekend's opening of the Ride the Wild trails at the Colebrook State Park and the fact that northern New Hampshire towns were opening their roads to ATVs, including Pittsburg, Colebrook, Errol, West Stewartstown and more, while Gorham was being bypassed in this new gold rush.

Sanschagrin pointed out that a coalition of 15 ATV clubs and two Chambers of Commerce were behind the Ride the Wild move, which aims to advertise the 1,000 miles of ATV trails in Coos County. He said they had just put together a brochure, 25,000 copies of which would soon be distributed, but Gorham is so behind the times that the area had not participated.

"ATV traffic is growing. If we don't do this now, it's done," he said. "This is no longer a mill town, folks. We are a recreation town. We don't want to have the people from Massachusetts, from lower New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, wherever, coming up here and to keep on going north. It's you folks who will make the decision. We are not asking for permission from the selectmen. We are asking for the blessing of the selectmen because it's a state highway. Our plan has been cut back. We wanted to go to White Birches (campground) but the Forest Service won't let us go within 85 feet of their land."

Indeed, the proprietor of White Birches noted that he had eight reservations from ATV families who were planning to take part June 23 in the ATV Day on the Auto Road. He said he had seen a falling off of snowmobile reservations because he couldn't guarantee a connection to the snowmobile trails from his campsite.

"Gorham is a great community. We have great businesses in Gorham," said Keith Roberge. "But I drive to Berlin to get gas (for my ATV). We go to Berlin to eat. Errol is the hub of snowmobiling. Gorham needs to jump on this and not just Routes 2 and 16. We have local people parking in the parking space and going to Berlin for gas and food. We need to open up the side streets. I want to see the roads opened to the restaurants. I want to be able to get a flat tire fixed (in Gorham).

"If we don't stand together and do this, we won't have the opportunity," he said. "If something happens on the road, we can handle it. ... not only 2 and 16 but a lot of short side roads. And if you have issues, address them as they come, but don't stop it. Taxes are high. Let's get people in here to help pay them."

Michele Cormier of Randolph wondered how out-of-towners would understand what roads were open to ATVs and which, not.  Gamache replied that "the reality is that we do that every day. They are allowed only on the posted routes. Up north there will be newspaper articles to advise the riders and the car operators, too. A specific sign means 'you can come here.'"

An ATV club member spoke up to say that he was all for ATVs but the problem is when parents buy a machine and then just let the kids go off with them. "That's where the problems are," he said.
A Promenade Street resident asked, "Who is going to police all these four wheelers. We have skidoos up there all the time and beer cans all over the place. The four wheelers will bring the same problems," he said.
 

But Ray Bergeron, who has been in business in Gorham for 21 years with motorcycles, snowmobiles and snowmobile rentals, said "We bring in an unbelievable amounts of money to Gorham."  He said he had customers from all over the world, some who can't even speak English, but who want to learn to ride. He said he teaches them, they have a big meal, they stay overnight.  "It's good for the community," he said. "We're giving moose tours on these things. People love it. They have a ball."


He noted that Henry (Sanschagrin) has volunteers who educate new riders.  "The enforcement part is not a big deal, and the snowmobile club, the ATV club, they bring a lot of money to the area," he said.
Deb Stewart said that she and her family had been in Colebrook for the opening of the Ride the Wild trails and noted, "They have a map of all the areas where you can go or not go. They've done a great job. There is signage on the main roads and on the trails in Pittsburg, Colebrook, Stewartstown. It's a great opportunity to bring a lot of revenue into our little town and we are at the beginning (southernmost of the potential trail complex), so a lot of times people will come here and stay and take off from here. We are all about recreation: snowmobiling, snow shoeing, ATVing—that's who we are," she said.

Picking up the theme of people coming to Gorham and maybe going through Gorham if the town doesn't hook up with services for tourists, Nathan Corrigan said that when he lived in Laconia, a friend would "come up here all the time to go four-wheeling and they stayed at the White Birches. In the last few years, it's easier for him to get on the trails in Colebrook and Pittsburg—he takes six guys twice a week—and comes up with his kids every other weekend."

Ron Pelletier, of Errol, president of the Umbagog Club, said that his club had started working with Gamache in order to open up the DOT roads and four years later, the plan is working. What's more, he added, "You take snowmobiling, you have a bad winter and you have no snow and no snowmobiling, but you can ATV seven months in the year."

Emile Croteau, of the Millsfield ATV Club, born and raised in Berlin, said, "When we started ATV trails, they were just foot trails, and they have grown to 140 miles.  "We always complain about the state, but the state did a wonderful job on this. They gave us a groomer, grant money, furnished good grants and equipment to make the trails better. They bought Jericho Park and did a wonderful job with it. They did their part. I think it's time for the towns to do their part. The state really did a good job."

And so it went, with one after another rising to say how important it is for Gorham to take part in the great ATV wave and open up the town to the visitors who are attracted to the North Country to ride the ATV trails.
At the end of the meeting, some asked, "well, what now."

Selectmen responded they would go ahead with the study that Cyr will do and then would be required to have another public hearing on the subject.  "Well," said Rick King, 'I think this is a way of life for the North Country. This town should be more progressive in how they do this—open the highways and the side streets. Let's do it right."  "We don't want to rush it or let time go by," remarked Jackson.  And the meeting was adjourned.

 

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