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Debate Rages on Legality of ATV's at Nash Stream

  • 01/26/2017 7:41 PM
    Message # 4570909

    Debate rages on legality of ATVs at Nash Stream

    By Barbara Tetreault
    The Berlin Daily Sun

    January 3, 2017

    STARK — A debate is raging on the legality of existing ATV trails in Nash Stream State Forest.

    Three conservation groups have questioned whether two existing ATV trails in Nash Stream State Forest have any right to be there.

    In May, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests and The Nature Conservancy asked whether the West Side Trail and the Kelsey Notch Trail met the statutory requirement that the state forest be managed to "preserve the natural beauty, landscape, rural character, natural resources and high quality of life in New Hampshire."

    Last month, the state Council on Resources and Development ruled the West Side trail is consistent with state statutes governing the forest but requested more information on the Kelsey Notch Trail before issuing a determination on its legal standing.

    The state Department of Resources and Economic Development, which manages the 46,000-acre state forest with advice from a 13-member Nash Stream Citizens Advisory Committee, is in the process of updating the management plan for the tract.

    DRED requested guidance from CORD on a new proposal to build an East-West ATV corridor along the southern boundary.

    CORD said the trail would not be consistent with the management vision for the property.

    At an advisory committee meeting in Lancaster three weeks ago, Brad Simpkins, head of the N.H. Division of Forest and Lands, said he hopes to have a draft management plan out for review by mid-January. He said there will be two public hearings as well as a 45-day comment period.

    DRED Commissioner Jeffrey Rose said the plan will allow limited ATV riding and includes alternatives for establishing ATV trails including making the Kelsey Notch trail permanent.

    The original plan for the forest, completed in 1995 after seven years of work, called for practicing ecological-based sustainable forestry with low impact and dispersed recreation. ATV use was not in the plan.

    In 2002, the plan was amended to allow construction of the 8-mile West Side Trail as a pilot. The trail allowed ATVs to enter Nash Stream from Stratford, make a loop and exit the forest. Then-Commissioner of Resources and Economic Development George Bald made the trail permanent in 2009.

    In 2013, the Kelsey Notch Trail was opened as a pilot ATV trail. DRED converted an existing dirt trail to create the ATV trail, providing an east-west corridor for the Ride the Wilds interconnecting trail system.

    In a May 5 letter to the CORD, Will Abbott of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Susan Arnold of the AMC and Jim O'Brien of The Nature Conservancy said their organizations believe the existing trails to violate state law and charged DRED with ignoring existing state law in establishing ATV trails on the Nash Stream property.

    They said the council has management and administrative responsibility for lands purchased under the state Land Conservation Investment Program.

    The Nash Stream property was obtained in 1988 with a variety of funding sources including $7.65 million from LCIP. The groups noted they were advocates for the state purchasing the former paper company land and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and The Nature Conservancy provided a bridge loan to secure the property while the funding was raised.

    In response, DRED Commissioner Jeffrey Rose said the 2002 revised management plan allowed the creation of the West Side Trail as a pilot trail and gave the commissioner the ability to formally adopt the trail at the end of three years.

    Rose also responded to issues raised about the Kelsey Notch trail, which he said was walked by Fish and Game biologist Will Staats and Department of Environmental Services employee Craig Rennie before it was opened to ATV use.

    He said DRED also performed the so-called coarse and fine filter reviews, which are a series of criteria set by the state Legislature.

    In its ruling, CORD said any future ATV trails in Nash Stream must be approved by the council in advance. It found the West Side Trail does meet state standards and can remain as long as it continues to be maintained in a safe and environmentally appropriate manner.

    CORD said it did not have sufficient information on the Kelsey Notch trail and requested additional information for its Jan. 12 meeting. That information included an updated coarse and fine filter analysis of the trail, an inter-agency memorandum of understanding, and a written agreement between DRED and a local ATV Club.

    Once CORD reviews the information and determines it is sufficient, it will allow the trail to provisionally reopen for a three-year period. DRED must submit annual reports so CORD can determine whether ATV use of the trail is consistent with state law.

    CORD rejected outright a proposal calling for an East-West Corridor Trail in the southern portion of the property as requested by the North Country OHRV Coalition. The council said the East-West trail would not be consistent with state statute or with the management plan for Nash Stream.

    Simpkins provided an overview of the issue and CORD decision to the Nash Stream Citizens Advisory Committee.

    Harry Brown, founder of Ride the Wilds, and Larry Gomes of the White Mountain Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club, asked the committee to consider supporting a short connector trail from the existing West Side Trail to allow ATV riders to access gas and services in Stark. The town of Stark submitted a letter supporting the short connector trail, noting it will also provide a link to the Corridor D trail. The town said it would also like to see a plan to develop an East/West connector trail that would take ATV traffic off town roads.

    Brown said he had tried unsuccessfully to get together with Abbott and work out a solution. He said the North Country economy makes it hard to earn a living here and ATV tourism is growing.

    "Erosion occurs on hiking trails, too — not just ATV trails," Brown said, noting the conservation groups support hundreds of miles of hiking trails.

    Gomes serves on the Nash Stream OHRV advisory task force and said the ATV trails on Nash Stream were deliberately located on the outskirts of the tract to avoid conflict with hiking trails and uses such as hunting and fishing. He said ATV enthusiasts are not asking for ATV trails in the interior of the property.

    Abbott said the Forest Society is not opposed to ATV trails in Coos County. He said, however, that the organization believes there needs to be a larger discussion on the issue. For example, he said Fish and Game does not have the staffing to handle enforcement on existing trails. He also said that would require 10 additional conservation officers.

    Abbott pointed out there is no management plan for the 1,000-mile Ride the Wild connecting trail system.

    Ted Burns of North Stratford reminded those present that businesses are closing in the North Country as the region struggles to recover from the closing of its paper mills. He said the state has to broaden its vision for Nash Stream.

    Lucy Wyman of Lancaster said she has hiked and gone horseback-riding on the Nash Stream property. She said the area should also be promoted for mountain biking. and there there needs to be places set aside for non-motorized activities.

    Advisory board member Mike Waddell suggested language be inserted in the draft management plan providing the state with flexibility on trail development on the tract. He also proposed including a process to allow the state to evaluate trail proposals between management plans. The committee approved both suggestions.

    DRED Commissioner Rose thanked the crowd for attending and said he was confident the draft management plan would get plenty of feedback when it is released later this month. He said that feedback is important. Simpkins agreed, noting the department wants to hear what people say about management of public lands.

    The Nash Stream property, which was former paper company land, was purchased by the state in 1988.

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