Concord pond closed to ‘ice riding’ after neighbors complain of noise

  • 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

  • Jake Strong of Concord pulls a wheelie on his motorcycle as he heads out to the small oval at Hoit Road Marsh in Concord on Saturday, February 3, 2018. A group of motorcycle enthusiasts gather on Saturdays to race each other on the frozen marsh. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Jake Strong of Concord gets ready to race against his friends as a group compete on their motorcycles on the frozen Hoit Road Marsh in Concord on Saturday, February 3, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

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

  • Motorcyclists drive on tracks plowed by snow plows on Hoit Road Marsh in Concord on Saturday, February 3, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Jeff Strong of Concord competes against friends on a short oval at the Hoit Road Marsh in Concord in 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Jake Strong of Concord takes a spill on his motorcycle while competing against friends at the Hoit Road Marsh in Concord on Saturday, February 3, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 10/4/2019 4:05:16 PM

Disagreement between fans of ice riding – the hobby of racing motorbikes across frozen lakes – and some neighbors frustrated with noise and crowds has turned Hoit Road Marsh in Concord’s northeast corner into perhaps the only pond in the state where off-road vehicles are forbidden in winter.

“It’s pretty unusual. Off the top of my head I don’t know of any other water bodies that are shut off to OHRV’s during wintertime,” said Sgt. Geoff Bushee of Fish and Game’s law enforcement division. 

Also unusual is the way this new ban came to be. It was passed by the governor and legislature as part of a budget rider, an addendum added to the state budget that was approved last week. The new law says simply: “OHRVs (off-highway recreational vehicles) shall be prohibited from traveling on Hoit Road Marsh in the city of Concord.” 

Under state law, ponds larger than 10 acres are designated as “great ponds” and are open to the public.  Some water bodies in the state have winter speed limits for off-road vehicles but not complete bans, including Turtle Town Pond in Concord that was the scene of a similar dispute years ago.

Hoit Road Marsh, part of a state wildlife management area, has for many years been used as a winter track by riders of motorbikes and ATVs using studded tires and other special equipment. It was featured in the Monitor in 2017. 

“It’s very shallow, so it freezes solid. It’s one of the first places to freeze over in the fall, in the winter,”  said Bushee. “It’s mostly dirt bikes, a group of guys doing it. It got popular, more and more people showed up – they had tracks plowed out.”

Dennis Stinson of Loudon, who said he lives “about 15 minutes from the pond,” has been plowing the icy pond for years in his side-by-side ATV for about eight years. 

“It’s probably four hours of plowing each time I go there,” he said. He said he makes a full route for the bikes, not just an oval, but a track with both right and left turns, and sometimes a second track for children to ride on.

“I also plow a hockey rink for the people who want to skate,” Stinson said.

“There’s a bunch of us that are regulars. Probably 20 of us that come regularly from the Concord-Loudon area,” he said. But the popularity has spread, Stinson said: “We’ve even had people come up from Pennsylvania to ride.” 

Mike Timmins, a local resident, described the pond as good for the sport because it is so shallow that few people try to fish in it.

“It’s the perfect place to do it because we weren’t interfering with ice fishing,” he said.  “It’s a dead pond, it has turned over so many times.”

Andrew Smith of Loudon, who calls himself “probably the old man of the group,” said people from the area “have been getting together very informally now for a lot of years. It’s literally people up the street.”

“There are a number of people who come to just hang out. We always make sure we have hot chocolate and lawn chairs –so they can change their skates and that sort of thing,” he said.

A neighbor who asked not to be named described the scene differently, however. He told of having to live near hours and hours of roaring engine noise, sometimes starting before eight in the morning, plus parked cars jamming the two-lane, sparsely inhabited road.

Not all neighbors feel that way, however.

“It’s never bothered me, and I’ve been here 24 years –  and I’m the closest guy,” said Bob Lopata, whose house is next to the pond. “That’s New Hampshire: You go out in the winter with your machines.”

Concord Mayor Jim Bouley said he has heard complaints on and off over the years.

“The final straw for a lot of people was Christmas morning. Folks were up, trying to celebrate with their families, and the motorcycles were racing around the pond that morning. That’s when I started to hear a lot of pushback,” he said.

“It’s literally like a chainsaw on your front porch, all day long. … If anybody had to live under those conditions every weekend they’d want something to be done, as well. I don’t blame them at all,” said Bouley.

Bouley said the ponds’ status as a “great pond” meant the city couldn’t pass an ordinance limiting access. 

So how did the ban come about?

Bouley said he approached Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, but “by the time I talked to him the time frame had gone by for introducing new legislation” this year. The only way to get a law passed before it froze this year, he said, was to place it in the budget rider.

Timmins and others on a Facebook group called New England Ice Riders have begun galvanizing efforts to overturn the new law, which several people described as having been “snuck in without anyone knowing.” That’s almost certainly not going to happen before this winter, however, which means that the ice riders are looking for another place to gather.

“Social media is already buzzing with stuff like that: let’s talk about other (locations),” said Smith. “This is a sport that people really, really like. … This is a resilient group. People will figure this out.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

 




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