Berlin itches for ATVers money


August 05, 2009
BERLIN — Steven Barnes and his son Cameron are just the people Berlin is looking for.

They were relaxing in the parking lot at Jericho Mountain State Park last Wednesday after a couple hours of hard dirt bike riding.

"The trails are beautiful," Mr. Barnes said. "They're outstanding."

The two came up from Deerfield, two and a half hours away, and spent two days riding. It was there first time dirt biking in the area.

"I love it. This is an awesome trail system," he said. "We'll definitely be back, two and a half hour ride or not."

Mr. Barnes and his son are the people that Norm Charest, the city's contract economic development director, is courting with plans to increase outdoor recreation opportunities with the 21/21 Initiative, an initiative to revitalize the city. (21/21 refers to Berlin figuratively reaching 21 years of age, aka maturity, in the 21st century.)

Mr. Charest gave the city council an update on the plan's progress last week, where he said the city needs to develop infrastructure to create a draw.

"We need to have something to offer the general public," he said. "The city needs to show it is serious about this endeavor."

As it is, it is hard for people traveling to the area to spend their money in Berlin.

"I was originally going to stay in Berlin," Mr. Barnes said, but after reading poor online reviews for the Budget Inn he settled on the Mt. Madison Motel in Gorham. They ate their meals in Gorham too.

"I don't want to be driving all over," he said.

He estimated he spent about $500 dollars on his three day trip, not including gas.

Berlin businesses would like to see a bit of that money.

Cindy Morin, owner of the Inner Glimpse, said even though ATVers wouldn't come to the area looking for a gift store, the families that come up would help her business.

"It's going to get people into the community," she said.

Sharon Wang, manager of Wang's Garden, said allowing ATV and snowmobile parking on Main Street would be a big step to help her business. Right now, she said, the people involved in those sports can't access the downtown.

"It's the easiest, cheapest thing we can do," said Kelly Leclerc, co-owner of the Tex Mex Cafe.

Greg Dobbin, the other co-owner of Tex Mex, said he sees more business from the snowmobiles than ATVs because they are allowed to drive into the downtown. If ATV owners could do something similar, he said, it would be a boost to business.

The boost may be temporary, however. The cost of gas could affect the number of people coming to the area for power sports. While the cost of operating ATVs, dirt bikes and snowmobiles may not be too high, the cost of trailering a pair of quads might prove too much should gas prices rise again.

Mrs. Morin said that's why the ATV/snowmobile development plan should be one part of a comprehensive outdoor recreation plan.

"It's a piece of the puzzle," she said.

The city should also highlight the local hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and river recreation, said Stacia Roberge, owner of Rumorz Boutique. That way the city is protected in case of oil price shocks, she said.

Mrs. Morin agreed. She said Berlin should never rely on one industry, the way it did in the past, to ensure its economic future. The right mix will incorporate a range of attractions, she said.

Mr. Charest has said Berlin should go after all types of outdoor recreation, but the 21/21 Initiative lists motor sports as the primary focus.

Mr. Barnes said the region has the terrain to draw riders to the area.

"Next time I come up I'm staying three or four nights," he said.

But until Berlin develops it's infrastructure, he said, he will be sleeping and eating in Gorham.

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