Claremont, Haverhill Appeal for Leeway on Trails

Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, July 23, 2017

Claremont — The Claremont city manager and town manager in Haverhill are pursuing another avenue to gain approval to reinstate access for motorized vehicles on the communities’ respective recreational trails.

A waiver request from Claremont was rejected by the federal government last year.

In a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, City Manager Ryan McNutt and Haverhill Town Manager Jo Lacaillade requested a meeting with lawmakers to explore the possibility of a “legislative resolution” to the issue.

A year ago, the city was informed by the Federal Highway Administration that its waiver request to allow all-terrain vehicles and other off-highway vehicles on the roughly 2-mile city-owned trail had been denied, even though the state department of transportation recommended a waiver be granted on a trial basis.

About the same time, Haverhill’s five miles of trail was closed to motorized vehicles for lack of a waiver.

The highway administration said under the federal transportation enhancement grant used to purchase the former rail bed in Claremont in the late 1990s, motorized vehicles are prohibited.

Patrick Bauer, with the agency’s Concord office, also noted in his letter to the city last July that the original application from the city stated the trail would be used by bicyclists, walkers and snowmobiles, and there was no mention of other motorized vehicles.

The trail was used by ATVs and OHRVs from 1999 to 2014, when the state informed the city it was violating federal law. The trail was popular because it connects to other trails that take riders to Cornish, Newport and Unity.

The letter from McNutt and Lacaillade in late May to U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter outlined a few potential solutions.

One would recognize ATVs and other off-road vehicles as “transportation alternatives,” while another would permit municipal decision-making on whether to allow motorized vehicles on the trails.

A third proposed solution would be to allow repayment of the original $258,000 grant to buy the former rail bed and thus free the city from the federal restriction, but the letter to the delegation states that may not be the case and there is uncertainty in that area.

“While not every recreational trail is suitable for OHRVs, many, especially in rural areas, are ideal for OHRV use,” the letter states.

Lacaillade said the five miles of trail from North Haverhill to Woodsville was closed last year following the decision affecting Claremont’s trail.

“Our ATV club is inactive because of the closed trail,” she said, adding that town officials are working with the state DOT trying to open some class 5 roads for ATV use.

Beside Claremont and Haverhill, the towns of Littleton, Farmington and Hinsdale are being affected by the state’s trail policy, and Troy and Rochester could also lose trail use, Lacaillade said.

“We are trying to fight this together,” she said.

A response to the letter has not been received from any of the lawmakers, but Kuster said in an email on Friday she understands the economic impact OHRVs have to the state’s rural areas and wants to seek a balance that “takes into account the needs of all parties using federally purchased trails.

“My office is evaluating potential policy resolutions that would provide flexibility to Claremont and Haverhill on which vehicles are permitted on recreational trails,” Kuster said.

The city-owned portion of the trail runs from behind the community center on South Street and along Chestnut Street before crossing the Sugar River to Washington Street where it continues east past Home Depot. It then becomes the state-owned Sugar River Recreation Trail, which allows motorized vehicles, and goes to Newport. Bauer, of the Federal Highway Administration in Concord, recommended some possible solutions along the Washington Street section of the trail, including improving shoulders to create bicycle lanes and building sidewalks for pedestrians. But any of the options would require a significant amount of money.

Diane Harlow, of Claremont, who is treasurer of the Sullivan County ATV Club and the state organization representing OHRVs, said she realizes it will be difficult to change the law but nevertheless thinks it is worth pursuing.

“We are looking forward to working with the delegation to see what can be done. Maybe we can find a compromise,” Harlow said.

Messages left for McNutt were not returned.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com