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Stark constable who sought ATV ban hopes failed bid draws attention to 'Ride the Wilds' trail woes

Union Leader Correspondent

March 20. 2018 1:02PM
A view on Monday of the Percy Peaks from Northside Road in Stark. A week ago Tuesday, voters at Town Meeting defeated a warrant article that would have advised the Board of Selectmen to prohibit ATVs from operating on all town roads, including Northside Road. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

STARK — The author of a defeated petitioned warrant article to ban ATVs from town roads hopes the effort alerts lawmakers in Concord that all is not well on the North Country ATV trails.

Since its opening in 2013, Ride the Wilds — an interconnected, 1,000-mile long system of ATV trails — has been hailed as a savior for the economically depressed North Country.

Eighteen communities in Coos County allow ATVs to use municipal roads as a connector to Ride the Wilds.

However, riders operating late at night or on prohibited roads have caused problems for residents, according to Bill Joyce, the Stark town constable.

In Stark, plans to run a trail through the lower Nash Stream State Forest fell through, but the ATVs were still able to operate on 11.8 miles of town roads, providing riders access to Groveton in the west and from there, south to Lancaster, and to West Milan in the east and points north.

But some of those ATV riders, Joyce wrote in his letter in the 2017 Town Report, operated late at night, and on prohibited roads. Some ATVs created excessive noise and dust, he said, adding that in one instance, a resident told him that he had been “run off the road by an ATV due to speed and auxiliary high-intensity lights.”

Joyce drafted the language of the now-defeated Article 16 and circulated the article, but because he is the town moderator, he did not sign it. He did, however, introduce the article at Town Meeting, after recusing himself.

If Article 16 had passed — it failed by a vote of 29 in favor, 94 opposed — it would have served only to advise the board of selectmen on their adoption of future ordinances; the current ordinance allowing ATVs on town roads expires in November.

Joyce said there were several positive takeaways from the Article 16 experience, noting that for starters, the 200 voters who came out to the Town Meeting was about three times the annual average of the past five decades.

“We’ve never even been close” to that many voters, said Joyce.

Joyce says complaints about ATVs on town roads have also been reported in Colebrook, Stewartstown, Groveton and Gorham. He said Article 16 was “an exercise in bringing attention down to the people in Concord” who, he thinks, can reduce some of the issues these communities are dealing with because of Ride The Wilds.

“The Legislature really caused the problem” of ATVs on town roads, Joyce continued, adding that it should address the problem, possibly by creating an eight-person unit that would be tasked solely with patrolling Ride the Wilds.

He repeated his contention, from his letter in the 2017 Town Report, that, despite assistance by N.H. Fish and Game conservation officers, there is no way he can effectively do that job in Stark.

Joyce thanked the Milan Trail Huggers for the club’s posting of signs alerting riders to the town ordinance and speed limits and also for its commitment to minimizing impacts in Stark.

Stephen Clorite, who is vice president of the North Country OHRV Coalition, which oversees Ride the Wild and is also vice president of the NH Off-Highway Vehicle Association, has previously told the Union Leader that the long-term plan is to find an alternative to running on Stark roads.

Paved roads, he said, are not good for ATV tires and riders want to be in the woods.

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