THE GRAND experiment, closer to the ground:
About six months ago, at March town meetings, North Country residents voted to allow ATV clubs to use dirt roads (in loftier climes, gravel roads) as links between trails. This was seen, and still is, as a means to encourage a pursuit that could bring much-needed dollars into a territory that has lost almost everything but its scenery.
It is the same thing, in a way, that has driven the unheralded and - to some - incomprehensible opposition to Northern Pass: a stubbornness to keep and to hold what is ours, the only thing left, after losing Ethan Allen and Tillotson Manufacturing and Groveton Papers and every other big-jobs enterprise. In the end it is up to us to keep and love the beauty of the landscape, or leave.
And so landowners and taxpayers agreed to let ATV riders use certain segments of town-owned and traveled roads to foster what many people believe, and I'm one of them, is a pursuit that will eclipse snowmobiling in a very short time. Three years, and I'd bet the farm.
Just look at the logistics. Snowmobiling, in a good year, is a three-month deal. ATVs can run for six months. In addition, nowhere east of the Mississippi can ATV riders travel on such huge, well-maintained and circular trails with abundant places to eat and stay overnight and return to their trailers.
There is nothing left for those above the notches but the landscape, and we should not sacrifice the landscape for downstream users. As for the promised millions bestowed by Northern Pass to "train and educate" for jobs, the questions are: for what jobs, and when and where? What jobs are within driving distance, and I'm talking about people who would and are driving long distances?
There are no jobs, within reasonable distance, to educate us for. All we have is the land.
A trail-linking road runs right by my front lawn. If I'm out there mowing grass or fixing machinery or hauling logs or other things or just sitting on the front porch, I wave, and so do the ATV riders. (Hint: Stop and say hello.)
Having said all this, I'm not an ATV aficionado. To me, an ATV is a tool to use around the farm. Still, to each his own. I've ridden the trails and would rather walk as long as I'm able. My ATV, and it's a good machine, shakes me to death, and riding on steep trails scares me to hell and gone. Teenagers and lesser beings will scoff.
The minute the state forced ATV users to register their vehicles, the state owed users a place to ride. This began with a pathetic few places on public land. Now it has mushroomed into the private sector, and now it all depends on clubs gathering responsible riders and enforcing the rules and landowners willing to let them ride.
This is a good thing because, in the end, it was going to happen, land being finite. It all would have depended on landowners, who in the broad scheme of things allow 80 percent of all trails for snowmobiles or ATVs, statewide.
This means that ATV clubs, like snowmobile clubs, have to police riders and the trails. This means reining in the 10 percent (that is my figure) of rogue riders, which I'm sure constitute teenage riders whose parents do not instill any respect for other property owners or instill basic respect for others on the trail.
In the North Country, landowners and ATV clubs have embarked on a grand endeavor that now offers a circuitous trail system unequaled east of the Mississippi.
ATV riders can park their trailers and embark on a one-night, two-night or weeklong ride through astounding scenery and at nightfall can stay at fine establishments, whether in Gorham, Errol, Log Haven, Pittsburg, West Stewartstown, North Stratford, Colebrook or beyond.
Law enforcement friends tell me that the ATV scenario in southern New Hampshire has become so chaotic that they've given up.
I hope that's not true. Above the notches, we have hope and hold fast.
The key is for law enforcement people to know each and every household harboring an ATV. In the south, this is daunting because the numbers are so huge.
The key for landowners and users, in the end, is communication and respect for landowners in a community that cares.
John Harrigan's address: PO Box 39, Colebrook NH 03576, or firstname.lastname@example.org