By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
Howie Wemyss doesn’t live in Gorham, but was upset that no one seemed to be concerned about the neighbors who are suing the town and state hoping to move a trailhead that brings swarms of ATV machines uncomfortably close to their homes.
Last month, Wemyss, general manager of the Mt. Washington Auto Road, complained to the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce after it joined a group of business intervenors against the handful of families who filed the lawsuit in March.
When chamber board members failed to respond because of the pending litigation, Wemyss, who lives in Randolph, decided he had enough.
“Effective immediately we withdraw the membership of the Mt. Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails in this chamber,” Wemyss wrote to the board on Aug. 29. “Furthermore, the Glen House Hotel will not be joining this chamber.”
Wemyss also asked the chamber to remove all listings and photos the businesses supplied for its website.
“I feel for them,” Wemyss said in a phone interview, of the families who live so close to the trail in Gorham. “It’s gut-wrenching. No one is doing anything to help them.”
The tipping point was when the chamber took intervenor status in the lawsuit, he said.
“They ought to be playing a leadership role. Basically they don’t care about the neighborhood,” said Wemyss. The chamber didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit in Coos County Superior Court was filed by the owners of seven properties on Crestwood Drive and Route 2 in Gorham. The trail system is operated by the state and the trailhead provides access to the state’s 1,000-mile Ride The Wild trails system.
The lawsuit, filed by Hopkinton attorney Arthur Cunningham, says the vehicles bring “reckless operation, speeding, noise, illegal after hours use, noxious exhaust fumes, dust, litter, public urination and obnoxious and threatening personal behavior of trail users that has substantially and unreasonably interfered with plaintiffs’ right to the quiet enjoyment of their homes.”
In the lawsuit, Cunningham provided examples of people feeling threatened in their own yards by ATV riders in this town of about 2,800 people located in the White Mountains.
Ray Bergeron, who runs White Mountain ATV Rental, supports the idea of Gorham as an off-road destination. Bergeron agreed to speak about his personal feelings, not as a chamber spokesman.
Bergeron was surprised to learn Wemyss is withdrawing chamber membership.
“I am going to stay very neutral on that subject, but on a personal note we have reinvented ourselves in the North Country,” Bergeron said. “This is our new economy. We are very fortunate to have forward-thinking people in the community.”
After so much economic devastation in the region over the years, the ATV business has been a boon to the area, he said.
“These people have thought outside the box – contrary to the disbelievers,” Bergeron said.
As a local businessman, he’s had to adapt, Bergeron said.
“I have morphed a few times. I had to. I’m survivor. We’ve morphed so many times because of the demise of the paper mills. We are very, very fortunate to have what we have here and a small handful of naysayers,” Bergeron said.
Progress has been phenomenal, he said.
“I’m very proud of working hard and annoyed people want to take this away from us,” Bergeron said.
Coos County must be doing something right because Millinocket, Maine, has been reaching out to do something similar, he said.
“As for the naysaysers, they’re never happy,” Bergeron said. “The other side would like to hear snow fall.”
Attorney Cunningham said the Gorham neighbors who filed the lawsuit are waiting for a judge’s order on whether the case should be dismissed. See Gorham’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit here and Cunningham’s objection here.
“The folks in this Gorham neighborhood have had a very tough time dealing with the OHRVs and the State and Town,” Cunningham said. “It’s become friend against friend, business against people and their homes and government, state and town, that has been unresponsive.”
Many are afraid to speak out, Cunningham said.
“It’s been awful for these folks, especially awful on the holidays. They put a trailhead in their neighborhood with ATV traffic on both sides,” Cunningham said. “It’s misery.”
Cunningham said the chamber joined the group of businesses that formed the Gorham Area Merchants for OHRV Tourism LLC – restaurants, inns and other businesses that filed as intervenors in the lawsuit.
The businesses say they should be party to the case because they rely on revenue generated from the trailhead and trail.
But Wemyss said the people who live in the area should be taken into account.
“You make no mention at all of the residents that make up our towns,” Wemyss said in his letter to the chamber. “Is it really worth trampling on the rights of our neighborhoods and their residents for the ‘good’ of a few businesses in town?”
Growth of the local economy due to uncontrolled growth in one narrow section of recreation opportunities will likely be unsustainable, Wemyss said.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that the chamber is willing to simply turn a blind eye to the situation of the local neighborhoods who are looking for relief and a simple return to the quiet lifestyles they used to be able to enjoy,” Wemyss wrote.
“It is now apparent that the chamber’s philosophy is so in conflict with our own that we must terminate our businesses’ affiliation with this chamber,” he said.