Freedom — November 16, 2006 — The overall public sentiment was that all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) should not be allowed on the Trout Pond property, despite applicants saying the activity would be monitored and low-impact.
More than 100 people from Freedom, Madison and Tamworth attended the public hearing of the Forest Advisory Committee on Thursday, Nov. 9 regarding an application by the Valley Trails Association, an ATV club.
Wayne Laveriere, the chairman of the club, said the 50-member organization is proposing to maintain and create a total of 10 miles of trails in the town forest property, much of which would run over existing Class VI roads, he said.
He said that the club once had permission to ride on the land, and during that time the club spent $52,000 repairing and maintaining the trails by installing bridges and culverts; and by patrolling the property and cleaning it up.
He said during a clean up party, members pulled out six damaged stolen cars along with 30 yards of trash.
“I saw pictures of what (the land) was like when Valley Trails was not allowed in there,” said Elaine South. “They are an asset to that property for patrolling. This land should be for everyone, not just a few choice hobbyists.”
Since the club has been prohibited from riding on the land, Laveriere said the property has degraded and trails eroded.
Opponents said the ATVs would cause too much damage to be considered a low-impact activity, which the deed with LCHIP and DRED requires.
Jennifer Molin said she started the grassroots effort to save the Trout Pond parcels from development by a private organization in 2001. She said a majority of people surveyed did not want ATVs on the property.
Blair Folts, of Green Mountain Conservation Group, agreed. She said they attempted to amend the deed to allow ATVs on the property in 2004, but the director of Department of Resources and Economic Development said it could not be amended.
Everyone, at the moderator’s (Don Johnson) prompting, agreed that Friends of Trout Pond should be commended for the hard work they went through raising money to purchase the land.
“The common ground we have is that Friends of Trout Pond did a great job, and the land was set aside for conservation,” he said.
Others were concerned with the number of members in the club. Laveriere said the club would not limit the number of members. In fact, he said, the more members the better “because we would have more control.” He said that members are a group of volunteers who are looking out for the property and its natural resources. “We’re here to help, not cause problems.”
Betty Godfrey, of Freedom, said “ATVs are not new to her family,” and her family knew to respect the land and landowners by asking for permission before entering people’s properties. This group will not limit the number of people in the club and therefore the number riding on the property, she said.
Dave Charrette, the trail manager, said ATVs would be allowed to ride on the trails at posted speed limits that reach 45 miles per hour on “trails that can withstand it.” He said the club would also be willing to post lower speed limits in areas where it would be more appropriate.
He said ATVs would be allowed on the property year-round except for mud season and winter, when snowmobiles would be driving. Trails would be located mostly on Class VI roads and would be patrolled by members of the club who had gone through the training.
Both Laveriere and Charrette said the proposal they were putting forth Monday was a stand-alone trail system, not a pass-through system: the trails in Freedom would not hook up to trails in Madison. Charrette said that if the group wanted to connect them to trails in Madison, the group would have to come back in front of the FAC.
The mission of the club, Laveriere said, is to provide enforcement, manage safe trails, and protect the natural resources. Club members are all responsible and concerned with protecting the natural resources as well as riding their ATVs.
Pam Fortin asked if the ATV club would be willing to come forward again later. She said she did not think the FAC was ready to deal with ATVs when the committee has not even had a chance to work on their own proposed trail system.
Tim Cupka said he thought ATVs should be allowed on the property because ATVs have better braking power, and there are many more users and more trails on which snowmobiles could go. Snowmobiles are allowed on the property as an easement condition, but there are fewer ATV users and fewer trails, he said.
Geraldine Houdaka said that if the committee allows ATVs on the property, it will set the standard for low-impact uses, by which every future proposal will be compared.
Committee chairman Pete Schiller said the committee would continue to take public input in the form of letters for two more weeks before it would begin deliberating. He said the FAC would then make a recommendation to the Freedom Conservation Commission, who would then approve or disapprove the proposal from Valley Trails Association.
Schiller said that if the conservation commission approved the proposal, it would then be forwarded to the selectmen for a final review for compliance with the easement and financial obligations to the town. Ultimately though, he said the Department of Resources and Economic Development would give the final say on the proposal.
Written comments can be submitted to the FAC at P.O. Box 227, Freedom, NH 03836.