Community Conversation on balancing outdoor recreational uses draws large crowd

By Barbara Tetreault

GORHAM — Some common themes emerged from a community conversation last week on balancing the various outdoor recreational opportunities in the Gorham area including both motorized and non-motorized activities.

Hosted by the town and North Country Listens, the session attracted 107 participants including outdoor enthusiasts from surrounding communities. The participants were randomly divided into nine facilitated groups where they spent more than two hours discussing key priorities, community solutions and next steps.

“The conversation is designed to hear from you,” North Country Listens Project Coordinator Courtney Wrigley.

Gorham Town Manager Robin Frost described the turnout as awesome and said she was pleased to see so many participate.

A majority agreed on the need to appreciate the region’s recreational diversity and find a way to allow all to co-exist while recognizing that motorized and non-motorized uses are not compatible.

One frequent recommendation was to locate trail heads for motorized recreation away from residential areas to avoid conflicts.

Specifically mentioned was the ATV parking area on Route 2.

There were practical recommendations for better signage and maps as well as finding a way to provide visitors with information on regulations. One suggestion was for a “robust website.”

One group suggested legislation to prohibit youth under the age of 16 from operating ATVs on public roads.

At the same time, participants spoke about the value of the various recreational opportunities to create a diversified economy and the need to find a way to allow all uses to co-exist. One group suggested focusing on shared values and working together on economic solutions beneficial to all.

Many of the groups spoke about the need for a forum or a working group to allow the various interests to get together to address issues and concerns and work together.

Wrigley said all of the recommendations from the groups will be compiled and everyone would receive a copy of the report. She said hopefully some of the recommendations can translate into actions.

“We will be communicating with you on next steps,” she promised.

A fact sheet handed out at the meeting said the state’s three northern counties depend more on the leisure and hospitality sector than the rest of the state and country.

The sheet noted Gorham’s proximity to the White Mountain National Forest. Visits to the WMNF Androscoggin Ranger Station increased 20 percent this year and the Appalachian Trail saw a 9 percent increase in thru-hikers last year. Mountain biking and paddling are also growing recreational activities and mushing, wildlife watching, trail running, walking, skiing, snowshoeing, geocaching, hunting and camping are other non-motorized activities that occur here.

Motorized outdoor activities are also growing with Coos County home to the region’s largest interconnected ATV trail system and both the Jericho ATV Festival and Camp RZR drawing thousands to the region. Berlin and Gorham both allow ATVs on municipal roads.

Snowmobiling is popular although last year snow levels were disappointing.