Selectmen discuss future of trails committee

By Kirstan Knowlton

GORHAM — Selectmen Monday debated the future of the town trails committee, with Selectman Mike Waddell saying the group lacks focus and has not been productive. Committee members argued that the group has tried to involve as many perspectives as possible and simply needs more time to accomplish its goals.

The board tabled the discussion without making a decision, but told committee members they need to be more organized.

The ad hoc committee was originally established by the board of selectmen to assist with solutions for trail use by all groups in the area, including ATV riders, snowmobilers and other motorized uses; hikers, bikers and other non-motorized use; as well as businesses and residents. The current focus of the committee has been on the Presidential Rail Trail, which has trailhead and parking lot located on Route 2 in Gorham.

With several open forums yielding little outcome, resident Joel Fortier spoke to the board of selectmen last December about creating a solutions for trail use by all groups in the area.

Interested parties, from business owners, residents and ATV riders, met regularly to discuss the impact of ATVs on the area.

Selectman Patrick Lefebvre was originally designated to attend the meetings and represent the board, but he recently resigned due to scheduling conflict with work.

Taking his place Selectman Mike Waddell attended the most recent meeting, which led to concerns about the future of the committee.

Citing the need for more organization and focus, Waddell said at the selectmen's meeting Monday that the current format is not productive.

“The current trails committee is turning into an ATV forum,” said Waddell. “It has become a pro or con depending on how many people show up. It’s getting redundant.”

Waddell suggested that a separate committee be created to deal specifically with trails use for other types of recreation.

“I think the town could use a trails committee separate from the ATVs,” Waddell said.

Waddell went on to say that he felt that ATV issues should be brought to the board of selectmen.

Members from the trails committee weighed in on the conversation by first saying that they should have notified that the future of the committee would be on the board's agenda.

“No notice was given to the committee about being on the agenda,” said Abby Evankow, member of the trails committee.

Concerning its make up, members of the committee said that the diversity of the group can be challenging at times, but they’ve set it up that way to allow for more perspective.

When asked about the inclusion of multiple groups in the discussion, committee member Reuben Rajala said that all voices are included in an attempt to get the most out the meetings.

“We’ve invited them in. It’s allowed a diverse group of people to learn,” Rajala said. “It tends to affect the focus, but it’s the nature of the beast.”

Committee member Diane Holmes added that groups like theirs experience different stages of development, but said that it’s all part of the process.

“Groups go through different stages, everything is a relationship. It’s very normal. Having those discussion together is what’s going to create solutions,” said Holmes.

Even after the explanation, selectmen continued to stand by the sentiment that the committee has lost focus, and suggested that more structure be added to the meetings, including a chairman or other clearly defined leadership and an agenda.

“I have a sense that the selectmen are losing patience, but we have also made some progress,” said Rajala.

Selectmen voted to table the issue.

The trails committee will be meeting again on Monday, Sept. 18, and N.H. Trails Bureau Chief Chris Gamache will be giving a presentation to the group.

Video feed from the meetings can be found online at the town’s website.