January 10, 2013 - By Deborah Thornblad, The Berlin Daily Sun
GORHAM - A standing-room-only crowd at Monday night's selectmen's meeting urged board members to support a proposal by the state to allow ATVs on state highways Routes 2 and 16 through the center of Gorham. If allowed Gorham would be part of a loop that would eventually bring ATVs along trails that stretched from Gorham, the southern most Coos County town, all the way up to Pittsburg.
Chris Gamache, head of the state Bureau of Trails, said discussion about an OHRV trail in Gorham began a couple of years ago with discussion on using the railroad bed. Part of that, east to Berlin, was opened up. Since then the Jericho Lake Park OHRV trail system has brought many ATV riders up to the area. Riders say the riding is better up here, Gamache said. Gamache said they are presently working on a loop that starts in Berlin, would go up through Success and Errol, up to Pittsburg, down to Colebrook and back to Berlin.
Last month Colebrook held a public hearing to discuss opening up town roads so ATVers would be able to use town services. In response to a question about how that town handled Route 3 being its Main Street and a state road, Gamache said they are not opening that road, but there are town roads that offer access to services in that town. Recently a bill was passed that would allow sections of state highways to be opened to OHRVs in Coos County only, which allows this proposal to allow ATVs on Routes 2 and 16 to be considered.
The main reason expressed in favor of allowing ATVs on the roads, and it would only be on the sections with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, is the business it would bring to Gorham businesses. Gamache pointed out Gorham has the services these tourists are looking for: restaurants, motels, gas stations, etc. One participant said if Gorham doesn't decide to allow them on the roads, the town will be missing out. These tourists will soon learn where they are welcome, and not. "Most of the communities north of here are upset because they are not tied in yet," Gamache said.
Selectmen Bill Jackson and David Graham seemed open to the idea. Selectman Paul Robitaille said he was not opposed, but had some concerns, mainly about the ATVs sharing the roads with logging trucks, and the age of the ATVers. Jackson pointed out the logging trucks already share the road with motorcycles, and ATVs were just motorcycles with two more wheels, as far as he was concerned. Others in the room noted bicyclists, walkers, joggers and scooters already share the road as well. "I don't have a lot of concerns if there are rules for them to follow," Jackson said. "I see these machines coming down and I really want them to stay in Gorham."
The age of the riders - currently they can be as young as 14, with a parent and if they�ve taken a safety course - was a concern with some, including Gorham Police Chief PJ Cyr. Gamache said Representative Robert Theberge is sponsoring a bill that would require the drivers of ATVs to be 16 and have a driver's license. That information seemed to alleviate much of the concern. Other possible ways of accessing the downtown businesses were discussed, including the multi-model trail. That"s not possible, however, because federal money was used for that trail and there is a restriction against motorized vehicles. It was felt some private landowners would be opposed as well.
Noise was also a concern expressed, but the state of New Hampshire has a 96 decibels limit. Higher than that would be breaking state law. Chief Cyr said he was originally opposed to ATVs in town, but after taking a trip on the trails and over the streets and into Berlin, and with the age limit change, he was now in favor of it. Gamache said they would do some more research into what might be possible on private land and get back to the board in a couple of weeks.
Under the legislation passed allowing them on state roads, the Bureau of Trails would have to hold a public hearing before opening the roads.