Visitors center at state ATV park named for former Berlin mayor
BERLIN — The land around Jericho Lake has gotten some pretty important visitors in the years since the idea to develop a state ATV park on the 7,200 acres was first proposed.
On Tuesday, the now 7,800-acre Jericho Mountain State Park got a visit from the man who first championed the idea nearly 10 years ago. Former mayor and city councilor of Berlin Robert Danderson came home to be officially thanked for the indispensable role he played in the park's creation with the naming of the building which welcomes guests to the site.
The Robert A. Danderson Visitor Center stands on the land just above Jericho, the same lake that Danderson kayaked on when the city owned the 293 acres of lake and shoreline. In 2005, the governor and Council approved the $2.16 million purchase of the acres then owned by T.R. Dillon Logging, and voted to accept the gift of the city's land.
Looking around, Danderson, who moved to Florida two years ago, said, "I always knew this place was going to be something. This is what I wanted to have, and more so."
The park boasts more than 70 miles of trails, a campground and picnic pavilions and a warming hut.
Danderson remarked on how "clean, friendly, family-oriented" the place now looked.
Danderson was mayor from 2000 to 2008, later serving on the council under Mayor Paul Grenier. Grenier was a councilor when Danderson was mayor. Bob Danderson's wife, Marti, who was with him on Tuesday, also served on the council.
Danderson first championed the idea of an ATV park in Berlin when Craig Benson was governor, and early on worked with Sean O'Kane then-commissioner of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development.
"What you see here today is the dream of one person," Grenier said.
Grenier recounted that during the worst of the city's economic challenges, Danderson looked around and saw that the city-owned Jericho recreation area was underutilized. Danderson, who was always searching for ways to diversify the paper-and–pulp dependent local economy, brought up the ATV park idea.
Grenier said he told the then-mayor, "I think you're nuts, but I'm not getting in the way."
Danderson was a key driver in bringing a federal prison to the city, and encouraged the redevelopment of the former pulp mill site into a biomass facility.
"Bob was undeterred," said Grenier, saying that Danderson did have opposition along the way.
State Sen. Jeff Woodburn praised Danderson for his vision and commitment.
Trails Bureau Chief Chris Gamache attested to Danderson's tenacity. "You called me daily, almost hourly," he reminded Danderson.
Danderson's vision has strengthened the economic development push for ATV riding in Coos County. On Saturday, officials will cut the ribbon for the Coos Loop, Gamache said.
Grenier said they worked with local legislators to get the visitors center named after Danderson. "Generally you have to be dead," Grenier said, adding that "there was surprisingly little resistance."