'Perfect storm' led to traffic trouble around annual snowmobile grass drags
By JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent
October 11. 2018 9:29PM
(THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)
Kellan Spencer, 2, with his mom Ashley, of Manchester, reacts to a motorist who sunk in the water during the annual NH Grass Drags and Watercross in Fremont on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.
FREMONT — Organizers of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Grass Drags and Watercross are working on plans to improve traffic flow for next year’s event after experiencing major backups on local roads and on Route 125 in Epping last weekend.
The three-day event hosted by the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association typically brings about 40,000 spectators to Brookvale Pines Farm on Martin Road, but parking problems last Saturday created traffic headaches that left some drivers stuck for hours and nearby residents stuck at home.
“There were several things that came into play,” said Roger Wright of Claremont, a member of the association and the site coordinator. While attendance was higher than usual on Saturday, Wright said one of the biggest problems was the mud in the fields that reduced the usable parking area.
“The grounds were just saturated with water and that restricted some of the paths we navigate to get to our parking areas,” said Wright, adding that the water table at the farm was the highest that he’s seen because of the rainy weather during the summer and early fall.
Wright also said fewer people carpooled, meaning there were more vehicles.
“It created a perfect storm that wasn’t beneficial to us,” he said.
The association is now working with police and others to establish satellite parking with shuttle service to the event to alleviate parking problems next year.
The traffic tie-ups came a week after visitors to the Deerfield Fair experienced the worst congestion they’ve ever seen, with some people sitting in traffic for several hours trying to get into and out of the fairgrounds.
“The annual (grass drag) event becomes more popular each year, and it was inevitable that parking would become an issue,” said Fremont Police Sgt. Jason Larochelle. “Much like the Deerfield Fair, there are only so many small roads that lead in and out of the area, and the cars coming in can only get parked so quickly, which then causes a backup.”
The snowmobile association and grass drag committee looked for alternatives for parking and shuttling guests last weekend after realizing the traffic problems, but Larochelle said the logistics could not be worked out in time to alleviate Saturday’s issues.
“Those arrangements have already begun to be put in place for next year’s event, and we anticipate a much different traffic and parking plan for 2019.” Larochelle said. “Historically, the (association) and its staff have worked extremely hard to address any issues that arise, and to keep its Fremont neighbors as happy as possible.”
Epping police Sgt. Steve Soares said Epping saw significant impacts last Saturday when traffic on Route 125 came to a halt from the North Road intersection in Brentwood two miles north through the busy commercial area of Epping to Route 27.
“Every intersection was plugged up,” he said.
Adding to the traffic woes was the state Department of Transportation’s decision to change the traffic light pattern to keep vehicles moving on Route 125. Soares said that change meant vehicles on Main Street and Fresh River Road at the Epping Crossing shopping center had to wait longer to pull out onto Route 125.
With the traffic nearly at a standstill on Route 125, Soares said some drivers trying to leave Walmart were stuck at a red light for about 20 minutes.
The grass drag event wasn’t the only one that brought people to the area. Seacoast United Soccer Club on Shirkin Road in Epping — located just a mile down the road — also held its annual tournament. New England Dragway on Route 27 had a big event as well.
Soares said police received complaints from Seacoast United because some people were unable to get through the traffic to make it to their games.
“We’ve got to make sure we plan for the future to make sure this can be avoided,” he firstname.lastname@example.org