DUMMER — While no final decision was reached last Wednesday, many Dummer town residents at a public meeting on all-terrain vehicles favored restricting or eliminating their use on town roads.
About 50 people, including residents of Dummer and other interested parties, came together at Dummer Town Hall to discuss the use of town roads by ATVs and whether the town should change its ATV ordinance.
Early in the meeting, several Dummer residents spoke about problems they have had with because of people riding ATVs on town roads.
Dummer resident Judy Marcou said she has had several issues with ATV riders since the roads have been opened to ATVs.
She said she has experienced lines of ATVs in front of her house and riders keep their motors running and do things like eat lunch and talk on their cellphones in view of her home. She said that ATVs race up and down the road in front of her home and ATV riders have blocked her driveway and have recently started coming to her house asking for directions. She said she even had one ATV rider urinate outside of her home.
“It is continuous,” Marcou said of ATV. “I am OK if we shut the roads down. We are at our wits end.”
Resident Gloria Kizer also said ATVs have been on her property illegally. She recounted an incident in which six vehicles came up her driveway and when she asked the operators why they were in her driveway, they told her it was a road and gave her an inappropriate gesture.
Kizer said she has also been yelled at and been called names by ATV riders on her property.
Dummer resident John Gasser said the issue should be divided between actual residents of Dummer and others, noting that with respect to Dummer residents, “We derive no benefit from allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to come in here and ride a four-wheeler.”
Dummer resident John Holt referenced an article he read from 2019, which he said was written by a former commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department referencing issues relating to ATV use, including the increased illegal use of ATVs and how ATV use can affect a town’s financial stability.
Holt said his personal issue is a potential vacation rental home near his home that has six bedrooms and 5,000 square feet and includes a kitchen and bar that he said will be rented out to ATV enthusiasts. He said his concerns were that people moved to Dummer for its small town appeal and that development coinciding with ATV use would change the character of the town in a negative way.
Holt’s wife Heather reiterated her husband’s point, adding that a friend of hers who is retired from New Hampshire Fish and Game Department was of the opinion that the only way to stop development would be to take ATVs off the road.
Dummer resident Brad Wyman said the type of development the Holts are concerned with has already happened in Stark with the addition of a new 250-acre subdivision.
“The lots were sold practically overnight, as far as I know, to ATV enthusiasts,” Wyman said, adding that ATVs were already changing the community of Dummer.
Dummer resident Wayne Moynihan, who lives off Plain Road, said the matter before the Dummer selectmen is a complicated one.
He said the current ordinance has no effect on the part of town roads that have been declared part of the state ATV trails.
Moynihan referenced a meeting 10 years ago between the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails and the Dummer selectmen that declared certain town roads part of the ATV system. He said a significant part of the problem is due to that designation and the ongoing nature of allowing the state to declare the roads part of the trail system.
Moynihan said when ATVs go by his home, which is only about 15 feet from the roadway, he cannot only hear them but feel them.
“We get the worst of their noise and fumes,” he said.
He said town residents were not talking about stopping all OHRV (off-road recreational vehicles) riding, just riding such vehicles on town roads. He said most communities do not allow such vehicles on their town roads. He also said the state has dedicated Jericho State Park to ATV related trails and added that there are public trust lands in the Pittsburg area and well as acreage in the Success area that are dedicated to off-road vehicle use.
“I don’t know what the solution is except no to OHRV on town roads,” he said.
Moynihan, who is a former New Hampshire state representative, received a round of applause after stating his position.
In response to Moynihan, Dummer Selectman Dave Dubey said agreeing to let the state designate certain town roads as part of the statewide trail network was a one-time act and that the town did not agree each year to that designation. Dubey said perhaps removing the town roads from the trail network would help to lower ATV traffic in the town.
Moynihan said he was under the impression that the state came back each year to ask that the roads be designated as part of the state system. He then urged the selectmen to change the status of town roads “forthwith” and make them no longer part of the state network of ATV trails.
Milan Trail Huggers ATV Club Trail Master Larry Gomes told those assembled for the meeting that the goal of the club is to get ATVs off the roads, noting that he spends many hours every week working to that end. He said when ATV use exploded in the North Country, it was difficult at times for even the club to manage.
Gomes said that when he gets complaints from property owners he follows up as best as he can and works that he with the Coos County Sheriff’s Department to resolve issues.
Gomes said the Dummer selectmen had reached out to him seeking help to resolve issues of ATVs on the roads and that he has been working in the west Dummer area with landowners to try to get ATVs off the roads into the woods.
Gomes said that one of the primary trail corridors, Corridor D, runs through the Dummer area and that getting Corridor D shifted off Hill Road and Blake Road could help resolve some of the issues. Gomes added that in his opinion moving Corridor D would reduce ATV traffic in the town tremendously.
After Gomes made his initial presentation, Moynihan asked Gomes how long he has been working on trying to resolve this issue and what makes him think he will succeed this time around?
Gomes said while he has been working on the problem on the west end of town for around three years, he just became aware of issues on the east side of Dummer. He added that one of the things that may help resolve the issue is the possible sale of a large block of land consisting of thousands of acres, that might allow for trails to be built away from town roads.
Gomes then added as an aside that while the ATV issue does negatively affect some residents, it has helped some folks as well in that they have seen increases to the value of their homes.
Moynihan responded that there was no evidence that there has been an economic boom in Coos County as a result of ATV use and that the Bureau of Trails had been told to do a study on the economic impact and safety evidence but had never completed the study. This led to several meeting participants offering evidence to dispute Moynihan.
Milan resident Janet Roberge, who owns Gord’s Corner Store said her store registers ATVs and that based upon a rough estimate, some 95 percent of ATV users she registers are from out-of-state. Of those, Roberge said that almost all of them are looking for investment properties in the area in order to build summer homes. She said others are looking at purchasing businesses.
“It’s a big boom to this area,” Roberge said of the ATV traffic.
Additionally, John Beaudoin with Sunshine Valley RV Park said he has seen a lot of positive economic impact including lots being sold so that people can put second homes on the properties.
“You don’t need a study to see what is happening in this area,” Beaudoin said.
Beaudoin did add though that people need pay more attention to the trail system and address the various issues presented.
Larry Meservey with MOMS North Country Powersports said his company came up to the area because of trail opportunities. He said the company bought a building in Groveton that had been sitting empty for more than 10 years; they renovated the structure and hired some 20 employees, who now contribute to the local economy. He added that the company also purchased a store in Gorham and has increased the staff by hiring seven additional employees.
He also said that his company just purchased 1,400 acres abutting Jericho State Park to increase the volume of ATVs in off-road areas.
He said that the region has become a destination and that people who are drawn to the area from outside have relocated to the area to purchase second homes.
“Growth that we see here is just beginning,” Meservey said.
New Hampshire Bureau of Trails Supervisor Clinton Savage then spoke to the assembled crowd and outlined what the town could and couldn’t do with respect to roads.
He said that the town could shut down town roads to ATV traffic, but did not have the authority to close off state roads to such traffic. He said that while Plain Road and Blake Road are town roads, Hill Road and River Road are state highways.
Savage did note that the town could request that state highways be closed to ATV traffic and that request would be considered by the Bureau of Trails and the Department of Transportation. He added however that if state roads were shut down, they could not be used by anyone for ATV use, including Dummer residents.
Savage said his department is willing to work with the town to get ATV trails off town roads and onto the trails.
In response to a question as to whether damage done by town roads could be repaired using ATV-related funds, Gomes said yes, that could occur following a grant application being filed.
Gomes said that registration fees for ATVs go into a dedicated fund that can only be used by ATV clubs. He said requests to receive those funds can be made via grant applications and that the funds can be used for a variety of different projects.
Ultimately, after more than an hour and a half of discussion, no action was taken.
Dubey said that the goal of the meeting was to try to reach some middle ground, and that the issue would need to be voted on at the town’s March 2021 Town Meeting.
While several of those in attendance asked why a decision could not be made sooner, Dubey said that the process to conduct a special town meeting is cumbersome, expensive and not guaranteed to work. He added that since the town’s current ATV ordinance was passed in a town meeting, any changes would need to also be passed in a townwide meeting.