The debate over riding motorcycles on icy Hoit Road Marsh heats up again

  • Motorcyclists drive on tracks plowed by snow plows on Hoit Road Marsh in Concord on Feb. 3, 2018. Monitor file

  • Special spiked wheels allow motorcycles to drive on the ice of Hoit Road Marsh in Concord on Saturday, February 3, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Jake Strong of Concord pulls a wheelie on his motorcycle at the Hoit Road Marsh in Concord on Feb. 3, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Jake Strong of Concord warms up around the short oval at Hoit Road Marsch in Concord on Saturday, February 3, 2017. Strong is heading to the U.S. Navy on February 13th and wanted to get in some racing against friends before he headed out. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 1/7/2022 3:47:33 PM
Modified: 1/7/2022 3:46:51 PM

For more than two years, two sides have fought for control over Concord’s Hoit Road Marsh.

In the latest round, a 189-158 vote in the House Thursday moved the winter motorcycle enthusiasts one step closer to erasing a ban, in place since 2019, that prevents them from roaring across the marsh.

Riders have maintained that they are respectful of the neighbors. They say the hours and days they spend zipping around a plowed oval on the frozen ice have been exaggerated. They argue they are participating in a sport that is vital to the state’s ID. The way the ban was put in place was sneaky and unfair, they say.

Some homeowners, of course, have had a different story. From their side of the story the ear-splitting noise lasts for hours, sometimes starting early in the morning, and it causes a traffic jam on the two-lane, rural road.

What’s at stake – quiet on weekend mornings against a tradition of outdoor sport that helps define the Granite State  – is clear, and the sponsors of the latest bill suggest this is a highly partisan issue.

The initial language that created the ban – one that is targeted only towards this pond and is unique in the state  – was a single line added to the state budget rider at the 11th hour by former state Senator Dan Feltes at the request of Concord Mayor Jim Bouley, both Democrats. Most people missed the little line of text that read simply, “OHRV shall be prohibited from traveling on Hoit Road Marsh in the city of Concord.” It was passed as part of the budget with no debate and went into effect immediately. 

Fast forward in a process that has been slowed due to COVID. Republican lawmakers have been miffed since 2019, saying the issue within the budget was the equivalent of the fine print in a contract.

The House addressed Bill HB571 Thursday, which seeks to lift the ban. Rep. Tom Walsh of Hooksett was the main sponsor, backed by fellow Republicans Natalie Wells, Steven Smith and Howard Pearl.

Walsh could not be reached by phone.

The Resource, Recreation and Development Committee narrowly recommended repealing the ban by an 11-10 vote in November. Writing for the majority, State Rep. Andrew Renzullo criticized the process used to create the ban and the precedent it set.

“With all that conflicting testimony you would think that, prior to enacting the ban in 2019, a site visit would have been done by some committee, BEFORE the bill that enacted said ban was passed. That’s the best way to verify the veracity of the testimony before the ban became law, part of the statutes,” Renzullo wrote. “Check the committee record. Look in the file. But there is no record! There is no file!  There was no site visit!  There was no hearing! There was no committee! There was no bill!”

The committee said the pond belongs the “people of New Hampshire,” and therefore the motorcycle riders have an equal right to use it as the nearby homeowners. The compared the ban to wealthy homeowners trying to restrict boat traffic on a lake.

“The majority of the committee is concerned more shoreline landowners may pressure their legislators to work outside the accepted legislative process to limit recreational access to state waters,” Renzullo wrote.

Since Hoit Road Marsh is more than 10 acres in size, it is managed by the state, which is why this issue is playing out in the legislature and not Concord’s City Hall, a fact cited by State Rep. Suzanne Smith, a Democrat who wrote the report for the 10 members of the committee that wanted to keep the ban in place. Concord tried to enact its own ban, but couldn’t.

“The minority believes that since there are other opportunities for ice riding within a 30 minute drive and those ponds and lakes are being utilized by riders presently, and because of concerns related to the lack of portable toilets and parking, which are the city’s responsibility, the prohibition should remain in place,” Smith wrote.

The marsh's depth, or lack of it, makes it popular with owners of bikes and ATVs because its shallow water freezes solid, before most other bodies of water across the Granite State. The crowd has grown in recent years.

So has the tension between the two groups who see through very different prisms. 

“It’s dozens if not hundreds of homeowners who are affected, not one or two people,” resident Julie Lane said in February. “It’s like, if you can imagine the sound of 10 or 20 or 40 motorcycles racing for hours on end. It would be six to seven days a week for five months.”

Loudon resident Michael Timmins noted that hard-charging, competitive riding is not part of the stage.

“I’m 50 years old,” he said. “I go on a Sunday afternoon with my family. We’re being portrayed in an unbelievably negative light. I can assure you there is zero racing happening on Hoit Road Marsh.”

With majority support from the full House of Representatives, the bill now awaits review from the Senate.


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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