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Bill looks to allow ATVs on some roads in Headwaters Forest

February 16, 2011
CONCORD — Designating some gravel roads for ATVs in the 146,000-acre Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Working Forest would allow riding enthusiasts to eventually travel from Pittsburg to Colebrook, Errol, and Success, explained Trails Bureau chief Chris Gamache in support of Senate Bill 107. Sen. John Gallus of Berlin is the bill's prime sponsor, and two Cos state reps from Berlin — Marc Tremblay and Robert Theberge — are among the five co-sponsors.

A bill specific to the Headwaters Working Forest would serve to remove "prohibitive barriers" to ATV connectivity, Gamache said on Thursday in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The coarse and fine filter criteria that were incorporated in 2007 into the state law that governs establishing ATV trails on state lands are too tight and inflexible and require a cumbersome process, Gamache explained.

Creating long-distance travel would a boost a regional economy shattered by mill closings, Sen. Gallus explained.

Will Abbott of the Forest Society, a nonprofit organization that played a role in realizing the 171,000-acre Headwaters project that includes a 25,000-acre natural area, pointed out that The Forestland Group, which owns the underlying land, is opposed to the bill.

The previous landowners, Lyme Timber, International Paper, and Champion Paper, also did not permit ATVs on their forests.

"This bill doesn't just move the goal posts, it tears them down," Abbott asserted. "There may be some compromise possible, but don't throw out the rulebook."

The conservation easement was hammered out collaboratively, and a Citizens Advisory Committee was put in place, he said.

Abbott also called on legislators to remember the wishes of private donors who supported the project financially, as well as the expectations of those who voted to support a $10 million state bond and $2 million in LCHIP funds.

Joel Harrington of The Nature Conservancy, which played a key role securing the project in 2001-2, also spoke to the extensive planning process that had led to the conservation in perpetuity of this large forest tract.

Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett, who played a key role in securing state funds for the project as House Speaker, said that he believed that designating some 20 miles of existing gravel roads would solve what has heretofore been an unsolvable problem.

The Jericho Mountain State Park was exempted from some of the rigorous coarse and fine filter criteria, and the same should be done for the Headwaters tract, allowing for a true multi-use property, he said. He pointed out that the state of New Hampshire owns these roads.

Committee member Sen. Amanda Merrill of Durham requested a map that shows the entire property and exactly what is being proposed.

Chairman Bob Odell of Lempster thanked those who spoke for their thoughtful presentation of the issues.

He hopes the Committee can vote its recommendation on the bill by Feb. 24.

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