BERLIN — To the delight of all-terrain-vehicle enthusiasts and the benefit of local economies, the North Country is becoming increasingly interconnected. Tonight, the City Council is likely to do its part to make Berlin an even easier, more inviting place for ATV-operating locals and visitors alike.
Situated between the 7,500-acre Jericho Mountain State Park — established in 2005 as a playground for a variety of motorized vehicles — and the Success ATV Trail, Berlin has long recognized the value of the ATV economy.
Several years ago, the city council authorized the creation of an in-town ATV connector between the Mount Jericho and Success trail systems. Tonight after a public hearing, councilors will vote on whether to expand that access further, City Manager Bill Wheeler said.
The proposed amendment to the municipal ordinance on Off-Highway Recreational Vehicles already passed a first reading on Feb. 3. Wheeler said it is now up for a second, final reading.
If the amendment is adopted, Berlin would join several municipalities, among them Colebrook, Errol, West Stewartstown, Pittsburg and Gorham, that have joined the state of New Hampshire in allowing ATVs on public roads in Coos County.
The North Country has about 1,000 miles of ATV trails and the goal of elected and appointed officials throughout the region is to link up those trails, with exits to trailside communities for food, lodging and services and on-ramps to help riders get back onto the trails.
Wheeler said Berlin’s ordinance will “allow people to travel, essentially from their residences or wherever they may be staying if they’re visitors, to the trail system in the shortest distance. It’s not that people can ride around city streets, it’s so they can get to the trail system.”
Peter Morency, who has been Berlin’s police chief since 2002, said the city has proceeded cautiously forward with its embrace of ATVs.
“We’re not a mill community anymore, and one of the big things that happened to Berlin is the OHRV system,” Morency said. “We’ve taken it very slowly and we built a through-way system so they (ATVers) can access 100 miles of trails and we’re finding quite a demand for that. And we’re finding people are actually buying houses” along the connector, he said.
Benoit Lamontagne, the North Country regional resource specialist with the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development, said efforts to connect municipal sidewalks and roads to ATV trails are going on from Berlin to Pittsburg.
Chris Gamache, head of the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, said the popularity of Off-Highway Recreational Vehicles (OHRVs) is continuing to grow in the Granite State and nationwide. Although sales of individual-rider ATVs have been “static,” Gamache said those of UTVs — utility task vehicles which have side-by-side seating for up to four passengers — have been climbing.
“And those vehicles are popular,” he said, “because two people can have a conversation when riding and you can ride in a little more comfort or maybe you carry more gear.”
The off-road experience is attracting a wide audience, Gamache said.
“A lot more of the retired crowd are buying these (UTVs) because they’re not going to hike 10, 15 miles” to get deep into a state park or forest,” said Gamache, adding that ATVs of all kinds are “keeping people connected and in the outdoors.”
That connection is helping make Coos County a year-round destination, he said. The more connections, including via public roads, the better, Gamache said.
“Today, OHRV-ing is on the rise and I think it will continue to be so and having some reasonable access to communities for services is something that the communities should continue to look at and consider; but each town has to make the decision whether it’s right for them or not.”
“A lot of communities have had this discussion this past year,” said Gamache, “and a lot more,” like Berlin, “are continuing to have it every day.”