N.H. Senate Mulls Larger OHRVs

Concord — Supporters of allowing wider and heavier off-road recreational vehicles in parts of northern New Hampshire argue that bigger is better when it comes to attracting tourists.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony yesterday on two related bills: One would create a separate obstacle course for modified trucks and jeeps at Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin; the second would allow two-passenger motorized vehicles, often called side-by-sides, on state-owned trails that are part of a new loop of trails through Coos and Grafton counties.

Under current law, a family who wanted to spend a week touring the North Country via a side-by-side vehicle could spend several days taking in gorgeous scenery and spending money on local hotels and restaurants only to be abruptly halted by warning signs and gates when they reach several stretches of state-owned trails, said Harry Brown, president of the North Country Off-Highway Recreational Vehicle Coalition.

“They are now stuck in the wilds of the northern reaches of the Great North Woods, unable to travel further,” he said. “The bottom line is disaster for them, but even greater, a disaster for all of us. This new all-terrain vehicle interconnecting trail system that will open this summer is our new ‘factory’ — our economic stimulus bill.”

Chris Gamache, chief supervisor of the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, said the larger vehicles have become increasingly popular, particularly with families. They don’t damage the trails any more than smaller all-terrain vehicles, he said, and the trails already are wide enough to accommodate them. If the bill passes, the main expense would be replacing about half a dozen gates, he said.

A decade ago, many communities were wary of expanding ATV trails, Gamache said, but public sentiment has shifted. Back then, he said, he was practically thrown out of public hearings on the issue, but today, “communities are coming to us saying ‘we want to be tied in,’” to the trail network, he said.

“These towns are looking at it as an economic engine,” he said.

Gamache also spoke in favor of the other bill regarding new trails at Jericho Mountain State Park. The park’s master plan calls for allowing the specialty vehicles, he said, and the trails would be constructed and maintained by the North Woods Off Road club.

Marc Pouliot, the club’s president, said the Jericho park course would attract riders from around the region since the closest public course for such vehicles is in Pennsylvania.

“People from up here have driven down there,” he said. “They’re very willing to travel and spend their money to utilize this option ... I think it would be a great asset to the North Country.”

Catherine Corkery of the New Hampshire Sierra Club spoke against both bills. She expressed concern about the environmental impact and questioned whether the focus on Jericho Mountain State Park was harming other parks.

“There are other state parks and other state trails that need maintenance, how does that get balanced?” she said. “There is a lot of effort toward ATVs, but what about everything else?”

Both bills already have passed the House.