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Expanded ATV system prods North Country economy

FILE - In this Sunday, May 23, 2010 file photo, Jude Stohl leads Leigha Cicchetto, and his son Ethan Stohl on a ride through Jericho Park's trail system in Berlin, N.H. In New Hampshire, a new interconnected all-terrain vehicle trail system dubbed "Ride the Wilds" will officially open June 15, 2013 capping years of work by more than a dozen off-road vehicle clubs who worked with state agencies and local communities to link 1,000 miles of trails across Coos County. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

FILE - In this Sunday, May 23, 2010 file photo, Jude Stohl leads Leigha Cicchetto, and his son Ethan Stohl on a ride through Jericho Park's trail system in Berlin, N.H. In New Hampshire, a new interconnected all-terrain vehicle trail system dubbed "Ride the Wilds" will officially open June 15, 2013 capping years of work by more than a dozen off-road vehicle clubs who worked with state agencies and local communities to link 1,000 miles of trails across Coos County. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

Corrine Rober opened Bear Rock Adventures in Colebrook last year in anticipation of a new venture designed to attract all-terrain vehicle buffs to New Hampshire’s vast and economically distressed North Country.

As the 1,000-plus-mile Ride The Wilds trail network opens its second season, Rober has more than doubled her fleet of rental ATVs to 23, takes daily calls from all over New England and the Northeast and is already booking ahead of last year’s pace.

“We started specifically because of the Ride The Wilds system because (before) there really wasn’t any riding in this area,” she said. “They had systems all over the place, but nothing was connected. When the Colebrook system opened last year, they’re the ones that brought it together.”

Rober has since opened a second location in Pittsburg and sees economic hope riding on the backs of those blocky four-wheelers.

“We have two homes being built and they’re over $500,000 homes,” she said. “And that’s a big deal for us in this area.”

Ride The Wilds is a network of trails in Coos County that allows ATV riders to easily get from trails to restaurants, shops, gas stations and other accommodations.

The network relies on not-for-profit ATV clubs to build, maintain and then sign the trails, 80 percent of which are on private lands. They also make sure riders obey the rules, staying on trails to protect habitat. A spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said it’s too soon to assess any environmental impact and that a committee to monitor the effect on the Connecticut River headwaters has yet to meet. Still, the system does appear to drive tourism, said the spokesman, Jack Savage.

“That’s a benefit two ways,” Savage said. “Economically, of course, but also in terms of providing another way to get New Hampshire residents and visitors outdoors, enjoying our forests and spectacular scenery.”

Ride the Wilds consists of five regions or “portals” for riders to choose from: North Portal in Pittsburg; Northwest Portal spanning Colebrook, Stewartstown, Columbia and Stratford; Northeast Portal in Millsfield, Errol, Dummer and Dix Grant; Southeast Portal covering Berlin, Cambridge, Gorham, Milan and Success; and the Southwestern Portal in Lancaster and Groveton.

The towns within the system allow ATVs on town roads along with some state highways to access services.

Coos County has been stung by the decline of the paper industry, the downsizing of an Ethan Allen furniture plant and the continued closure of the Balsams Grand Resort.

“One of the huge things we have is the economic asset of our lands,” said Harry Brown, president of the North Country OHRV Coalition, one of the driving forces behind Ride The Wilds. “It’s just an awesome thing to augment all the other things we have here, whether it’s fishing, camping, hunting or watching the moose. I think it’s been beyond people’s expectations.”

Brown said the next goal is to create a crossover from Lancaster to Gorham and an additional 15 miles north of there, both at least a year away.

Oh sure...now its great..didnt the locals fight this too at first?

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