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"A Plan for Developing New Hampshire’s Statewide Trail System for ATVs and Trail Bikes 2004 – 2008": Increased participation in recreation with off-highway recreational vehicles (OHRVs), and anticipated future demand emphasize the need to plan and manage today’s trails for tomorrow’s use.

arrow Download the full 60 page plan and survey (pdf 2.2 mb)


Plan for developing a statewide OHV trail system in New Hampshire


In the span of a few short years, the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and trail bikes, otherwise known as wheeled off-highway recreational vehicles (OHRVs), has come to the forefront of New Hampshire’s recreational management issues. Wheeled OHRV recreation continues to be one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities, with both users and non-users strongly divided as to how this form of recreation should be managed. Many wheeled OHRV users feel that the state has expended little effort to date in providing an adequate supply of trails in relation to the demand and number of participants. On the other hand, non-users and other citizens contend that wheeled OHRV use is a significant source of problem in terms of both personal property and environmental impacts.

photo of vehicle on dirt trail

ATV route in New Hampshire

Approximately 22,000, or 2 of every 100, New Hampshire residents and 4,500 non-residents currently have wheeled OHRVs registered in the state. Over the last several years, the state has designated 23 wheeled OHRV trails throughout New Hampshire totaling approximately 776 miles. However, a general disparity currently exists between trail availability and user demand as 40 percent of these trails are located in the northern portions of the state while 79 percent of resident vehicles are registered in the southern portion of the state.

In addition to issues of overall trail availability, there continues to be a significant rise in the number of trail riders. Based on the number of registrations over the previous 8 years, total wheeled OHRV registrations are expected to increase by 42 percent to more than 37,000 in the year 2008. To maintain a comparable amount of trail mileage for the expected increase in OHRVs in the next 5 years, the State would need to develop nearly 350 miles of additional trails.

Concerns expressed by both wheeled OHRV supporters and opponents are warranted as the number of participants is expected to increases in the coming years. In recognition of both its popularity and its accompanying controversy, public land managers have consequently determined that providing safe and well managed wheeled motorized recreation in New Hampshire is an appropriate task and in alignment with statewide recreational goals. As a result, the state general court declared it to be in the public’s interest to manage the demand for wheeled OHRV trails on state lands in conjunction with other recreation objectives.

This document serves as the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development’s Statewide Trails Plan for ATVs and Trail Bikes (the Plan). As such, it calls for providing designated seasonal trails for ATVs and trail bikes, identifies major issues related to developing and managing these trails for use by wheeled OHRV during the snow-free months, and offers suggestions for addressing these issues. Based on the projected demand, it is recommended that the State take appropriate measures now in order to design, construct, and implement an established system of trails over the next five years. Primary objectives would be to develop a safe and finite system that can be readily maintained using standard best management practices for natural resource protection in conjunction with up-to-date management methods for motorized recreation.

The Plan sets forth the following recommended steps for adopting the finite system:

• Educating wheeled OHRV users and re-aligning user expectations in terms of meeting multiple use and resource protection objectives;

• Developing a long-term and sustainable trail system based on landscape-level recreational objectives that incorporate sound trail construction and maintenance methods designed to protect natural resources; and

• Planning new trail locations and expansions in keeping with the State’s overall goals as stated in the 2003 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).

The Plan also suggests locations for trail development and expansion based on the spatial relationships of trails in the existing system. The Plan further recommends that the State monitor the trail system for trail damage and environmental impacts, enforcement effectiveness and rider compliance with regulations, and multiple user conflicts. All new trails should be required to be maintained in compliance with the standards and guidelines for trail care as declared by the Bureau.

In addition, the Plan examines the current wheeled OHRV registration fee structure, program fund sources, and fund allocation. Since the wheeled OHRV financial structure has only been in existence for one year, the Plan makes suggestions for maintaining detailed records of all accounting activities over the next five years. A detailed analysis should be conducted in the future to evaluate the program’s ability to maintain the wheeled OHRV trail system given the implemented fee structure and fund appropriation.

As the chief steward of New Hampshire’s public trail system, the Bureau is required to ensure that adequate and safe recreational opportunities are available for all participants, while maintaining safeguards to protect private property and natural resources. This Plan is a tool designed to help direct the Bureau to fulfill the State’s ATV and trail bike needs in compliance with all regulatory requirements, which, in turn, will help protect the public interests. In summary, the Plan presents guidelines for the Bureau to facilitate working with land managers, natural resource specialists, trail users, municipalities, and the general public in the task of developing wheeled OHRV trails that are compatible with the State’s overall agenda for public recreation.



2.1 A Recreation Management Conflict – The Current Debate in New Hampshire

OHRV recreation , particularly the use of ATVs, continues to be among the fastest-growing outdoor recreational activities (OSP 2003). In New Hampshire the rising number of registered vehicles and the growing population of organized clubs make plain the increased popularity of ATV riding. Moreover, in 2002 roughly 25 New Hampshire ATV clubs formed their own statewide alliance, the Granite State ATV Association, to promote rider education and involvement and to defend rider issues and concerns.
This growth in use has generated numerous conflicts in the area of recreation management. For example, based on a recent recreation needs assessment study sponsored by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and the New Hampshire Office of State Planning (OSP), few households (17 percent) participate in wheeled OHRV riding as compared to other activities such as walking (79 percent) or hiking (73 percent) (OSP 2003). Yet despite these relatively small numbers, wheeled OHRV use has demanded the attention of land and recreation managers, primarily because of the growing popularity of this recreational experience and the associated impacts on resources and other trail user groups.

Not surprisingly, there are divided opinions between wheeled OHRV users and non-users over OHRV management. Supporters of their use feel that the current trail availability in New Hampshire does not adequately provide for the current number of participants. Wheeled OHRV users also feel that the state has expended insufficient effort toward increasing and improving trail access, despite an annual wheeled OHRV registration fee that is one of the highest in the country. Concerned opponents of this form of recreation offer a different view and regard wheeled OHRV use as an increasing problem. As its popularity continues to grow, non-users contend that wheeled OHRV use is a significant source of negative impacts on the environment, trail conditions, the outdoor experiences of others, and on adjoining property owners. In addition, there is an overall concern for other issues such as trespassing and regulatory enforcement.

It can be argued that wheeled OHRV users, unlike other trail user groups, have not enjoyed extensive trail systems on public land in New Hampshire. For example, well-maintained hiking trails are found throughout the state on both state and federally owned land. Also for comparison, snowmobile trails make up the majority of trail mileage in the state. There are more than 6,830 miles of snowmobile trails providing roughly 0.12 miles for each of the 55,000 registered snowmobiles.

The relatively few managed wheeled OHRV facilities in the state are receiving increased use and subsequent impacts, to the extent that these areas are determined by some users to no longer provide enjoyable riding opportunities. This is particularly true of the most popular trails in the South Region of the state, such as the Rockingham Recreational Trail.
Both OHRV supporters and opponents offer valid concerns and issues, which form the basis and need for the development of this plan.

2.2 Recent Legislative Requirements

Despite the differing perspectives of wheeled OHRV users and opponents, public land management agencies have determined that providing for motorized recreation is an appropriate task in New Hampshire’s overall trail development mission. Increased wheeled OHRV participation and anticipated future demand emphasize the need to plan and manage today’s trails for tomorrow’s use. In Chapter 233, the general court declared it to be in the “public interest to balance the demand for ATV and trail bike trails on state lands,” with other management objectives for state lands (RSA 215-A:41).

The mission of the Bureau is to provide safe recreational outdoor opportunities and to coordinate recreational development on state lands, especially DRED parklands. Other state agencies have missions that are resource-conservation based. However, all agencies will collaborate on the various resource issues they face and come to consensus, though not necessarily agreement, over their resolution. The Bureau and other state agencies, including the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHFG), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Department of Environmental Services (DES), are now required to work together to develop a system of wheeled OHRV trails on public and private lands (RSA 215-A:41). Trail development must meet certain guidelines, including the following aspects:


2.3 Scope of the Plan

This document serves as the DRED Statewide Trails Plan for ATV and Trail Bikes for developing seasonal (summer/fall use) trails for ATVs and trail bikes. HB 1273 also directs that the Plan shall accomplish the following:

(a) Provide an inventory of the ATV and trail bike trails open to the public in the state, including the length and condition of the trails, persons or organizations responsible for maintenance, funding levels for maintenance, and estimated ATV and trail bike use;

(b) Provide an assessment of the amount of ATV and trail bike trail expansion required to reasonably accommodate the public need in the next 5 years;

(c) Propose additional sites of strategically located lands where public/private partnerships will allow development of ATV and trail bike trails;

(d) Propose sites for the acquisition by the state of strategically located lands for the development of ATV and trail bike trails; and

(e) Assess the level of funding necessary for grants-in-aid and purchases of land, easements, and rights-of-way for the purposes of the 5-year plan, and make recommendations for fee structure changes to the legislature.


5.1 The Future Trail System

To generate a practical vision for the future condition of wheeled OHRV access in New Hampshire, the existing trail system should be viewed from a landscape perspective. Working on a landscape level provides the best guidance for observing spatial relationships and land cover settings. Recognizing the existing trails and assuming they will remain accessible to wheeled OHRVs, the state is encouraged to establish a goal for developing the system to full maturity. This would be a finite trail system that is well designed, well maintained, and kept open for use.

The groundwork for developing a mature trail system is already in place. Routes of varying lengths and difficulties are dispersed throughout the state and have the support of local, organized clubs. The goal now is to expand on any untapped potential in a manner that incorporates long-term planning and educated decision-making.

Designing a mature, finite trail system prevents gratuitous trail construction as an emergency remedy. Planning on a large scale with long-term goals also provides the best opportunity for allocating regions where wheeled OHRV use will be emphasized or de-emphasized. Finally, careful, methodical planning that includes public involvement will help minimize the skepticism of all user groups.

arrow Download the full 60 page plan and survey (pdf 2.2 mb)

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