- The Washington Times - Friday, January 27, 2006

BERLIN, N.H. — Almost from the moment the state approved buying land for a state park for all-terrain ve

hicles, the phones began ringing in City Hall. Some callers wanted to know if the trails were open; others want to know if they could buy land nearby, says town planner Pam Laflamme.

State parks director Allison McLean found herself peppered with questions at a regional meeting of state park directors — many of whom are struggling with the growing demand for ATV trails in their states.

As city and state officials are learning, you don’t even have to build it before they come.

The purchase, which should be final by the end of January, would create a 7,500-acre state park with the potential for 350 miles of trails for ATVs. The first trails, on existing logging roads, could open as early as this spring, officials say.

The park will be the first of its kind in New England. The closest similar park is in West Virginia, though one is planned for a former strip mine in Cambria County in western Pennsylvania.

New Hampshire riders have long complained that they have few places to ride, and conflicts between riders and private landowners have risen as ATV popularity has soared.

When the state last raised registration fees, it promised some of the money would go toward trail development.

Resistance to adding ATV trails to existing state parks stymied those efforts. Then a logging company offered land in Berlin, and New Hampshire saw an opportunity to meet the demand in an area that welcomes ATVs. Even groups that have long opposed ATVs figure they’re better off in an isolated area of Berlin than elsewhere in the state.

The city is donating 300 acres around Jericho Lake that will come equipped with bathrooms and parking.

The state plans to improve the area this spring and open it to swimmers, boaters and other users this summer, Miss McLean says.

The park will be slightly larger than the 5,775-acre Crawford Notch State Park near Bartlett but smaller than New Hampshire’s largest developed state park, the almost 10,000-acre Bear Brook park in Allenstown.

Logging has removed most of the old growth, but many smaller trees remain, and the hilly layout gives a sense of privacy as the road rises and falls. Most of the park is west of Route 110, but there are 1,610 acres on the east side, near Head Pond.

Steve Dayton operates a multimillion-dollar business renting ATVs at Pismo Beach, Calif. When he heard from family members about the planned park, he saw a business opportunity and flew east to learn more.

That’s music to the ears of Mayor Bob Danderson, to whom the park represents a chance to turn his blue-collar city into a tourist destination and reduce its historic reliance on a single industry, pulp and paper.

The area already attracts snowmobilers in winter, but Mr. Danderson believes ATVs will provide an even bigger, year-round business. Driving down Route 110, he points at potential sites for new hotels, stores, restaurants and cabins, all feeding the local economy.

“This is the start of the next big recreational sport in New Hampshire,” he says.

Jim Bird, who is active in the New Hampshire Off-Highway Vehicle Association, agrees. “I think it’s going to be huge,” says Mr. Bird, whose group represents ATV clubs statewide.

Mr. Bird also predicts the sport will grow as the population ages and more people need motorized help to get around. “Anything that gets people out in the woods is good,” he says. “It’s so much cheaper than therapy.”

According to information collected by the New Hampshire Off-Highway Vehicle Association, the Hatfield-McCoy Recreational Area in West Virginia draws visitors from 46 states and led to the opening of six equipment and supply stores, seven campgrounds, two hotels and three cabin-rental companies.

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