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November 11. 2013 9:47PM

Ride the Wilds

ATV season hailed a success


It's always a muddy good time at the annual Jericho ATV Festival held in June in Berlin. (Courtesy)

The ATV season in the North Country has closed for the year and was a success, officials say. This was the first year state roads in Coos County were open to ATV travel.

The city of Berlin, town of Gorham and 12 other communities, as well as some unincorporated places, all had some roads open. The combination of state and town roads and trails through wooded areas allowed ATV riders to go from Gorham all the way to Pittsburg along the Ride the Wilds trail.

"Overall I have the sense that things went very well," said Chris Gamache, head of the state Bureau of Trails.

In Berlin, the Jericho ATV festival celebrated its fourth year. As the Ride the Wilds trail runs right through the city, people there are used to seeing ATVs and snowmobiles in the winter. This year things expanded to include closing the downtown to all but ATVs for a few hours during the festival. ATVs were allowed to ride to the three important events at the city's Northern Forest Heritage Park.

"The general feeling among the community is positive," Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said. "There were some isolated incidents, none serious enough to revisit what we're doing."

Berlin has traditionally had a manufacturing economy, but things are changing.

"For the first time in Berlin's history, we're building a recreation economy. That's our niche. We're going to work through any issues that come up," he said."Things have been so positive that I'm receiving, the city council's receiving, requests to continue to expand it," Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency said.

Success in Gorham

The Ride the Wilds trailhead is located off Route 2 in Gorham. Many of those who come up to ride stay in motels along Route 16, the town's Main Street. With the opening of Main Street, they were able to drive right from their motels to the trail.

Of the three Gorham selectmen, Chairman Paul Robitaille was the most hesitant about allowing ATVs on the roads.

"I did have some hesitation, but it went better than I thought it would," he said. "For the most part, ATVers were very thoughtful and considerate."

Robitaille said he visited the trailhead a few times to talk to people. He was most interested in how ATVers would interact with others that use the trail, such as bicyclists and horseback riders.

"Those I talked to said the ATVers were very considerate and always gave them the right-of-way," he said. "ATVers were very complimentary about the town, about the welcome they received, and they loved the fact that they could ride their ATVs from their motel to the trailhead."

Robitaille said the opening of the roads has been very important to the local economy.

Many weekends, there were no rooms available in the local motels. Restaurants saw an uptick in their business, he said.

As in Berlin, there were a few complaints — a couple of ATVs riding on lawns and after dark — but nothing serious, he said.

"The town seems to have accepted it with open arms," Gorham Police Chief PJ Cyr said. "It's brought another aspect of tourism to the town and boosted the local economy."

Some residents whose homes are close to the wooded parts of the trail have complained about dust. The local ATV club is considering putting down mulch on the trail in areas where that has been a problem.

Cyr said he also heard some concerns about the age of some ATV riders. The legislation allows riders as young as 12 on the roads, but they must be accompanied by a licensed driver 18 or older.

Gamache acknowledged that concern, but said there are no plans at present to change that,

"There's only so much we can do and still keep it a family activity," he said.

Two-town permit

Berlin and Gorham officials are working together to create a permit that would be good in both towns.

A difference in hours of operation became a problem during the ATV festival. Berlin allowed ATVs to be on the road until 10 p.m.; in Gorham, the limit was one-half hour after sunset. This left some ATVers in Gorham in the situation of being illegally on the road when trying to get back to their motels.

It is hoped the permit will be in place before the season opens again in May.

Gamache said meetings are planned over the winter between the state, law enforcement and Fish and Game to address any outstanding issues.


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