GEORGIA – Members of the Northwest Vermont Wheelers (NVW), a subsidiary of the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association (VASA), met with the Georgia selectboard Monday night to pitch an ATV-oriented stimulus plan to the town: draft an ATV ordinance and allow a controlled population of riders through the town.
NVW’s Jeff Curtis and Tim Jovial attended last night’s meeting with a hypothetical trail in mind through the town, one that’d stick to the more sparingly used class 3 and 4 roads strewn throughout Georgia.
In doing so, Curtis and Jovial argued, the town could avoid the uncontrolled surge of ATVs plaguing residents in other Franklin County towns while also encouraging ATV tourism, something, according to the two NVW representatives, the state should be pursuing.
“It’s a multi-million-dollar business, and it’s growing bigger and bigger,” said Curtis, NVW’s president.
Curtis and Jovial used Vermont’s neighbor, New Hampshire, as their example, where a vibrant tourism industry has grown from state and local officials’ courting of ATV users. While there’s been no formal study of the impacts of ATV tourism in New Hampshire, some towns in the state’s post-industrial North Country have reportedly seen a boon in traffic and economic activity in the wake of New Hampshire encouraging ATV traffic.
According to a series of New Hampshire Public Radio articles run in October 2017, towns in Coos County, New Hampshire confirmed increased restaurant and hotel traffic linked to ATV tourism, a sentiment Curtis echoed Monday night when he met with the Georgia selectboard and said he spoke with business owners in New Hampshire’s more tourist-friendly stops.
“As one owner put it, it was like opening a factory next door,” Curtis said.
ATV traffic can come with friction, however. The previously mentioned NHPR series reported that ATV traffic in New Hampshire had led to noise complaints and accusations that ATVs were driving away other forms of tourism.
Closer to home, the Town of Highgate recently passed an ATV ordinance to reel in what some residents, as well as the town government, saw as excessive ATV traffic along the town’s major roads. According to NVW, that ordinance continues to prove controversial among Highgate’s ATV users, and though the town itself reported during past selectboard meetings that the ordinance managed to exert at least some control on its ATV traffic, some ATV-related traffic problems reportedly persist.
Currently, Georgia does not have a municipal ATV ordinance, nor has there been a high level of noise- and traffic-related complaints that other towns in Franklin County have publicly wrestled with.
The selectboard confirmed that with Roger Langevin, the Franklin County Sheriff-elect who also attended last night’s meeting after seeing a possible ATV discussion would appear on the agenda.
“It’s not as bad in Georgia as it is elsewhere in Franklin County,” Langevin said.
Still, Curtis and Jovial recommended that Georgia head off any problems with burgeoning ATV traffic by passing an ordinance and allowing traffic on certain roads and trails.
Hypothetical trails, some of which could cross through private lands pending the homeowners’ approval, would be allowed to accommodate traffic from NVW-authorized ATVs, which would be denoted by an NVW membership sticker.
Those roads marked as trails would be maintained by NVW’s membership fees.
Curtis and Jovial provided their networks in Bakersfield and Enosburgh as examples of how the trail network could look, ultimately picturing a continuous ATV trail network in the vein of Vermont’s snowmobile network currently maintained by the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST).
With that comparison in mind, NVW’s idea won quick support from Georgia selectperson Steve Lamos, a self-described snowmobiler who agreed that controlled ATV traffic could be beneficial for the town.
“I talk to people and they love going to New Hampshire and spend money,” Lamos said.
“You’ve got to spend $500 a weekend to go to New Hampshire just to ride,” Curtis said. “All that money is going out of state, and we’re losing that money because people won’t let us connect our trails.”
Jovial pitched a few roads that could serve as legs of a proposed snowmobile trail – Dee Road, Sodom Road, and several other side-roads and forgotten branches.
“We don’t want to use roads we have to use,” Jovial said.
Some of those roads were dead ends or outright left for overgrowth by the town, selectperson and town road commissioner Ric Nye noted. Nye then promised to share contact information with Jovial to help confirm which roads were actually practical for NVW’s envisioned trails.
NVW left the selectboard with a copy of Franklin’s ATV ordinance for reference and promised that they’d return once a more concrete trail was mapped. Jovial said he was waiting to hear back from some of the landowners whose properties might be crossed by a trail and the selectboard said they’d likely wait until after Town Meeting Day before taking up the question of ATVs.
“It sounds like you’re trying to do it the right way, and that’s important,” said town administrator Mike McCarthy.
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