By Barbara Tetreault
GORHAM — The N.H. Bureau of Trails plans to install a 6-foot fence near the Route 2 parking lot for the Presidential Recreational Rail Trail as a short-term solution to issues raised by heavy ATV use of the trail east from the parking lot.
In a letter to abutters of the rail trail, Bureau Chief Chris Gamache wrote that the bureau continues to seek a long-term solution that would relocate the connector trail for the 2018 riding season.
Residential homeowners near the parking lot and trail have complained about noise and dust from ATV traffic. Over the next few weeks, Gamache said his agency plans to install a 6-foot tall by 8-foot wide solid wood fence panels on posts.
The fence would start just east of the parking lot and run 600 feet west on the north side of the state property (Crestwood Drive). He said they also plan to install 400 feet of fencing on the south side of the trail going east. The fence will be installed on the state side of the property within feet of the property line. The panels will be installed in a staggered pattern to deflect more sound than a continuous fence line.
“The fence will provide a visual barrier between some abutting homes and the trail users, and is intended to deflect some of the sound waves from trail users. We understand that sound will still travel and be heard from abutting homes but believe this will help to cut down some of it,” Gamache wrote.
The letter said the bureau hopes to have the fence installed before Camp RZR on Sept. 22-23.
Gamache also said the state is still researching different surfacing materials such as paving or using reclaimed asphalt on the trail entrance east for about 300 feet to reduce dust.
Gamache was scheduled to discuss the matter with the Gorham Trails Committee at its scheduled meeting Monday afternoon but was unable to attend.
But in an email sent to the committee, he said the state is still talking to Pike Industries about possibly relocating the connector trail onto property the paving company owns off Route 2. Gamache said he has also had N.H. Departments of Transportation and Safety review using Route 16 as a connector route, from the area of the high trestle bridge south to the intersection of Routes 2 and 16. He said the officials were not encouraging because Route 16 is four lanes at that point and a majority of the traffic is traveling well over 30 mph.
Several abutters at the committee meeting indicated they were not pleased with the idea of the fence. Harry Sterns said the fence may be a good start but there are still property owners who will be impacted by ATV traffic. He said a six-foot fence will be just feet from his property line.
Audrey Albert, an abutter, called the fence a band-aid approach and not a long-term solution.
Another abutter, Abby Evankow, said moving the trailhead would just be moving the problem into someone else’s neighborhood.
Michael Waddell urged abutters unhappy with the fence proposal to call Town Manager Robin Frost and have the issue put on the agenda for the Aug. 21 select board meeting.
The fence reopened the on-going discussion about allowing ATVs on Gorham streets. The town currently allows ATVs on most streets but residents appear split on matter.
Diana Holmes noted that back in 2002, Jeff Taylor conducted a Plan NH charrette that looked at the Berlin-Gorham Road. One option called for creating more of a parkway with single traffic lanes in each direction and adding pedestrian and bike lanes. She said maybe that could be revisited and an ATV lane created.
Steve Jackson said he believes ATVers would still come to Gorham even if they were not allowed to ride on local streets. He said he opposes allowing ATVs on Gorham’s streets.
Michael Waddell, emphasizing he was not speaking in his capacity as selectman, said he understands Jackson’s position but feels the committee should stay focused on the trailhead issue.
Conrad Klefos said he agreed with Waddell on the need to stay focused on solving the trailhead issue and taking advantage of the state’s willingness to spend money on a solution.
Holmes said when the town agreed to allow ATV access to town roads, there was an understanding that if it didn’t work out, it would stop. She said residents are complaining and there is no long-term vision.
Reuben Rajala said ATVers who come to Gorham and stay like accessing lodging establishments and restaurants on their ATVs. Another member said shutting off that access to local businesses would be like shooting yourself in the foot.
Police Chief P.J. Cyr said it would be great to have a multi-use recreational plan and get ATVs out of residential neighborhoods. He noted the state is working on that.
Cyr said his department responded to about 20 OHRV complaints during the Jericho ATV Festival weekend. Road access for ATVs closed at 10 p.m. and he said there were not many operating after hours.
“The weekend went well overall,” he said.
Cyr said he feels there needs to be a focus on safety. He said many ATV riders do not wear helmets or eye protection, which are optional for riders 18 and older. He said he also observed adults driving ATVs holding young children. Cyr said those are issues for the Legislature.
Klefos expressed frustration that the committee continues to digress onto the larger question of ATV road access as attendance changes at every meeting.
Waddell pointed out that the committee is a fluid group, which makes it hard sometimes to make progress.
Serving as facilitator, Coutney Wrigley of North Country Listens, agreed that the topic keeps coming up. The group spent time discussing its direction.
In the end, the group decided to focus for now on the Route 2 trailhead and to request Gamache meet with it at its September meeting.