GORHAM—In a cliffhanger that had Gorham businesses and ATV riders on the edge of their seats, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan came through at the last minute with the okay for ATVs to use Gorham’s Main Street—State Routes 2 and 16—just in time for all to enjoy the Jericho Park ATV Festival, July 26-27.
Local motels had already been booking ATV guests for the weekend, but no one could promise whether or not these guests would be actually able to ride their ATVs from their lodgings to hook up with the State’s Jericho State Park and Ride the Wilds trails in northern New Hampshire.
Now they can. And Gorham is elated. “We are extremely excited about the approval for Main Street in Gorham to be open to ATV riders living in and visiting Gorham,” said Gorham Town Manager Robin Frost. “This provides access to the entire Ride the Wilds trail system. Our thanks to the State of New Hampshire for making this happen in time for the Jericho ATV Festival this weekend. There is a great potential for a powerful boost to the economy of Gorham and the surrounding communities.”
Frost added, “There will be temporary signs installed while the State procures the permanent signs. It is also my understanding that NHDOT will place the flashing roadside signs in Gorham to alert motorists of the presence of ATVs on the public roads.”
“I think Gorham will be a great place for ATVs to enter the trail system,” said Gorham Selectman Chairman Paul Robitaille. “Typically we are the tourist gateway to the rest of Coos County. I think it will be a shot to the economy.” Robitaille confessed that he had had reservations in the beginning, but, he noted, “ATV riders are law abiding. It is more of a family sport than I thought initially. We look forward to entertaining our neighbors from away.”
Gorham selectmen had approved a motion to permit ATVs on State Routes 2 and 16 in the town and a pilot study of local road use during the weekend of the Jericho Park Festival, but all was suspended until approval could be obtained from the state to allow ATVs on the state routes within Gorham.
Meanwhile, Gorham Police Chief P.J. Cyr had produced a draft regulation for local Gorham roads that might be opened to ATV traffic so that guests and local residents could drive their vehicles from where they were staying or where they lived to the amazing ATV trails network that has opened up in Coos County which now starts in Gorham.
“We needed to show there was local public support in order to submit a request to the Department of Transportation,” said Chris Gamache, Chief of the N. H. Bureau of Trails. “If the selectmen had not taken a vote in favor, we would not have submitted the request for a permit.” Gamache said ATVs will be permitted from the parking lot on Route 2 at the railbed down to Route 16 to all the services in Gorham. Gamache said that in the past the majority of people who attended the festival did stay in Gorham, but in the past they had to trailer their ATVS from their lodging up to Route 110 to the ATV park.
“Now they can leave from their hotel or motel and drive their ATVs. It will help with parking issues along Route 110, as well as make life easier for the ATV riders,” he said. Gamache said that the Bureau of Trails will put up temporary (and eventually permanent) signage to guide riders and auto drivers. ATVs will be expected to observe driving regulations, staying on the right hand side. The Department of Transportation will also put up variable message boards to warn drivers of traffic conditions.
“They will install those this week on Route 110 and Routes 2 and 16 for this new use,” Gamache said. “They will operate like motor vehicles. They will drive at highway speeds. That’s big,” he said. “Motorists and ATV riders must pay close attention and get along with each other.” Last year attendance at the Jericho Festival was about 2,000, he said. “We are anticipating between 2,000 and 3,000 this year, he said.
The big announcement came in a press release issued Monday by the office of the Governor. In the press release, it was announced that permits had been approved for ATV use on Coos County State Highways, with comment from the Governor: “Allowing off-road vehicles to travel on state highways will help make New Hampshire’s unparalleled ATV-riding experiences an even greater success,” she was quoted as saying. “This will make more trails accessible to riders, helping drive business to shops, restaurants, and other properties in Coos County and strengthening our travel and tourism economy.”
Gamache said that in addition to Gorham’s state routes, the okay extends to a short section of Bridge Street in Colebrook and a short section of Main Street in Stewartstown, all of which had the initial approval of the towns themselves before the Bureau of Trails sought permits for the ATV use of these sections of state roads.