By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — The Jericho ATV Festival drew a record crowd and organizers said even rain could not dampen the spirit of ATV enthusiasts who flocked to the region.
“It went amazing well,” said Paula Kinney, executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“It was awesome,” said Mark Belanger, a chamber director and member of the ATV Festival Committee that oversees the event.
The committee said 7,000 people attended the two-day festival, an increase of 1,000 from last year. Chris Gamache, head of the N.H. Trails Bureau, said there was a great crowd of both riders and spectators at Jericho Mountain State Park throughout the two-day event. He said there were a lot of out-of-state riders and noted the local hotels were full with some ATVers traveling to Jackson, Lancaster and Bethel, Maine to find accommodations.
The festival kicked off Friday with the busiest day in its eight-year history. People flocked to watch the grudge runs in the mud pit and take advantage of the free demo rides. New this year was the kids’ mud pit and the East Coast Hoppers doing trials demonstrations. Riders checked out the hundreds of miles of trails in the county and relished the ability to drive to restaurants and lodging establishments on local streets.
Main Street in Berlin was jammed Friday night for the Downtown Block Party with Belanger reporting an excited but well-behaved crowd taking advantage of the music, beer tent and food concessions as well as local restaurants to enjoy the evening. Rain pushed up the start of the torchlight parade, but no one seemed to mind. Many local residents said it was nice to see so many people in the downtown.
A full slate of activities greeted enthusiasts Saturday starting with a blessing of the ATVs at 8:30 a.m. With rain threatening, the Rave X Freestyle stunt show was moved up to 9:30 a.m. Kinney said the show concluded just before the first of several showers and downpours throughout the day.
Chris Gamache, head of the N.H. Bureau of Trails, said the rain had some impact in keeping attendance down Saturday afternoon but said the rain was actually needed to keep the dust down. Even during heavy periods of rain, Kinney said people still continued to pour into the park.
One of the highlights of the festival is always the mud pit and Kinney said this year it was in prime shape. She said Mike Couch of Romik Developers is the creator of the mud pit and manages to outdo himself every year. Kinney said the mud pit now attracts riders with modified ATVs designed just for racing in such muddy conditions. The festival awards $2,000 in cash, and vendors donate expensive prizes to winners in the various categories.
“We had the best races ever on Saturday,” she said.
One new event this year was a kids mud pit designed for the younger riders. Kinney said it was a big success with at least 200 kids trying out the pit using Power Wheels provided by MOMS of Lancaster and Bolt Depot.
The venue shifted Saturday night to the Service Credit Union Heritage Park in Berlin for a “Concert in the Park.” Rain, complete with thunder and lighting, delayed the start of the musical performance by the group “Last Kid Picked” but Belanger said once the rain stopped, the band put on a full show. He said the crowd started off slow but the pace picked up as the rain stopped.
“The park was full by the end of the night,” he said, adding that people were dancing and enjoying the music. The food vendors hung in and the beer tent remained open.
“We work so hard to do these events and to see people respond couldn’t be more rewarding,” said Belanger.
There were no major incidents or accidents during the festival, which Gamache attributed to the planning and preparation work done by the partners. He noted there was a good law enforcement presence throughout the festival, which he said riders like to see.
There were also lots of events for people to do and enjoy including a poker run, obstacle course, helicopter rides, hot air balloon rides, demo rides, food and parts vendors, and trials demonstrations.
“The event gets better organized and implemented every year. It is really great to see so many different organizations and individuals working hard to make a quality event in New Hampshire,” Gamache said.
The chamber now turns its attention to getting ready for Wingzilla, scheduled for Sept. 9 at the Service Credit Union Heritage Park. Then it’s back to Jericho Mountain State Park for Polaris’s Camp RZR on Sept. 22-23.