For this week’s Radio Field Trip, we’re heading off the highway and onto the trails of the North Country.
(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)
As I enter the town of Berlin, ATVs are everywhere. They’re parked at the gas station, in front of restaurants, in the driveways of homes. They’re on the streets riding along side of me.
“You can go through Dunkin Donuts, get a coffee, [and] hit the trails. You can go down to the grocery store [or] restaurants,” Steve Clorite says.
Steve is the president of the Androscoggin Valley ATV Club. I’m meeting with him and a few other avid ATV riders in a parking lot. Jericho Mountain State Park is across the street.
The lot is filled with off-highway recreational vehicles, or OHRVs for short. Several zoom past as we chat and get to know each other.
There’s a dealership next door that used to only sell snowmobiles. But within the last decade, its inventory has grown to include a much larger variety of recreational vehicles.
“It’s not just snowmobiling in the North Country anymore,” Steve says. “The OHRVs are 6 to 7 months out of the year where you can ride, and in some places like Berlin, you can ride through the winter too with tires. So it really extends the season.”
Steve leads me to an ATV large enough to fit four people. I hop into the passenger’s seat, buckle my seatbelt and off we go. We cross a road and head into the state park.
The ride is bumpy as Steve drives us up and down steep hills. It’s quite a ride.
Steve says one of the best parts of experiencing the views of New Hampshire is the journey of getting to the lookouts.
“Some people like to hike. Some people like to bike and walk. Others like to ride these vehicles,” Steve says.
We arrive at a warming hut where riders stop to rest and enjoy the stunning views Coos County has to offer.
There’s a lookout here. We can see the wind turbines at Jericho Mountain and the beach of Jericho Lake. I can see clouds touch the trees in the distance.
These views are one of the many reasons Arlene and Joe Engel moved to Berlin from Connecticut. After years of visiting, the couple decided they wanted to be in New Hampshire full time.
“So we moved up here in a snowstorm, and we love the riding,” Arlene says. “We love the area, and we love being outside.”
Joe and Arlene have been working to buy one of the few gas stations along the trail system.
“It’s kind of a key piece we feel as far as the area goes,” Joe says. “So we just want to see that keep going and make it better.”
The community of ATV club members, riders and volunteers is really what keeps these trails going. Hundreds of volunteer hours are put into trail maintenance.
Bobby Rodrigue is also riding with us today. He was born and raised in Berlin, and he’s seen the town through its many changes within the last few decades.
“Holy moly, when I was a kid this town was booming,” Bobby says. “There were well over twice our present population. We had the paper mill booming with 3,000 employees. Those have all changed and gone on. So with that being said, this is our new economy.”
People travel from all around New England, and even from other parts of the country, to rent and ride ATVs on these trails.
Steve says the majority of those in Berlin have been supportive of the new tourism industry. But he knows there are some out there who have their concerns.
“Obviously this is a big change for a lot of the people,” Steve says. “Some people moved up here or lived here their whole lives because they enjoy the peace and quiet, which is something that OHRVs so far haven’t been very good at providing.”
After we take in the view at the warming hut, we get back into the ATV and Steve drives us to his favorite trail – Holt’s Revenge.
“You know it should be Holt’s joy ride or something like that,” Steve says. “It is a fun trail.”
And Steve takes off down the trail. It’s a bit like a rollercoaster. We go up and down steep hills, turn around sharp corners. The ATV rocks back and forth. I have to hold on the sides to brace myself.
The other riders meet us at the bottom of the trail. And with a yeehaw and some shouts, they make it clear they had a great time.