By Barbara Tetreault
MOUNT WASHINGTON — A record turnout for the Mount Washington ATV Climb jammed traffic on Route 16 Sunday morning, with some commuters stuck in traffic for hours.
Both Auto Road General Manager Howie Wemyss and NH ATV Club President Buddy Dionne have apologized for the traffic snafu that resulted on Route 16. Wemyss said his company will discuss the event internally and with the club before deciding whether to hold it again next year. He said the traffic delays that resulted on Route 16 were unfair to people traveling on the road, especially those going to work.
“We won’t let that happen again,” he promised.
Both men said no one predicted the volume of ATVers that showed up early to ride to the 6,288-foot summit.
Holmes said there were a total of 2,534 people that traveled to the summit by ATV Sunday, about 1,000 more than the previous record. That figure does not include those turned away when the road closed for a while because the parking area was filled.
The bulk of the ATVers showed up early Sunday, driven by the beautiful weather and the desire to get down in time for the ride home.
Wemyss said hundreds and hundreds of trucks and trailers carrying ATVs arrived at the Auto Road in a short period of time. The trucks and trailers take up far more room than regular vehicles with space and time required for unloading.
In a letter he sent out, Wemyss said he had nine parking crews working in six different parking locations to get vehicles off the highway. But by 9 a.m., he said, the parking space was filled.
Complicating matters was the fact it was a rare clear and calm day on the summit, leading many to linger once on top, compounding the traffic problems below.
“It was a spectacular day for being up on the mountain,” said Wemyss.
“It was such a nice day I think a lot of people stayed at the top,” said Dionne.
Wemyss said in the interest of safety, they closed the road until 2 p.m. to allow the congestion at the base to clear and get traffic moving on Route 16.
“I know we turned away a lot of people,” he said.
Wemyss noted that ATVers who arrived later in the afternoon had a totally different experience. The congestion was gone and they could park and unload quickly.
Dionne said the club and the Auto Road worked hard to plan and run the event.
“We all did our best. We just got overwhelmed,” he said.
Wemyss expressed his appreciation to Gorham Police and N.H. State Police for assisting with traffic.
Dionne said he thinks the club and road may have to split the ride into a morning and afternoon session. Wemyss said he expects they will discuss doing online ticket sales.
The Mount Washington ATV Climb drew hundreds of ATVers to the Androscoggin Valley with most lodging establishments booked for the weekend. The Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce took advantage by hosting a Redneck Poker Run on Saturday.
"Our first ever Redneck Poker Run was a huge success," said Chamber Executive Coordinator Paula Kinney. She said 230 participated in the poker run. Many stopped at the Service Credit Union Heritage Park where the run was based. At the park were concession stands and a beer tent and in the evening, the popular group, Riot Act, performed.
Prizes in the poker run went to Best Hands: first place, Dale Cookson, Plymouth, Mass.; second place, Matthew Hoseason, Harrisvile, R.I.; third place, Kris Cicchetto, Pembroke. Best Use of Redneck Theme: first place, Ashley Demers and her son Gabe, Berlin; second place, Rachele Ouellette, Berlin; third place, Chad Losier, Berlin.
“It was a great kick off to the tourism season in the Androscoggin Valley. The chamber is looking forward to a very busy season in our area. Next up is PaddleMania on Thursday, July 14,” said Kinney.