From: Erik Stetson, Associated Press
Published February 24, 2005 12:00 AM

New Hampshire Nature Center Wants Snowmobile Ban

CARROLL, N.H. — Snowmobiling is big business in New Hampshire's rural North Country, so it's no wonder the state has been trying to lure riders this winter with a new trail.

But the decision to run the path within 100 yards of a new $9.5 million nature center and lodge in picturesque Crawford Notch is not sitting well with owners and guests.

"If you were going to pick a place that was going to be worse, you could run a trail right through a grade-school playground," Ann Isenberg said after a recent visit to the center.

Until last weekend, a lack of snow had largely prevented snowmobiling near the center, built last year by the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Boston-based conservation group.

But recent storms have brought both snow and snowmobilers. The state estimates up to 2,000 snowmobilers a week travel through the area in peak season.

The new trail nearly surrounds the club's property, which primarily caters to environmentalists, hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

"It can be a transformative place," said Walter Graff, the club's deputy director. "I think that would be so changed if you cross the track and there's snowmobiles just zipping by."

The Concord Monitor used a stronger tone in a December editorial, calling the state's decision to build the trail "stupefyingly bad."

The state has spent at least $225,000 to create another trail in the area, next to a road serving the Cog Railway, a tourist attraction on nearby Mount Washington. Club officials said the state should have widened that trail rather than build the new one near its center.

But Wayne Garneau, Twin Mountain Snowmobile Club director, said the state plows that road, diminishing the trail's value.

Garneau said the center could turn a tidy profit by enticing snowmobilers to its restaurant instead of trying to drive them away. February and March are peak months for snowmobiling, a $1.2 billion industry that is a boon to area restaurants and hotels.

But Garneau isn't holding his breath. "They have a different feeling about people in a snowmobile suit," he said.

Club officials say snowmobiles could ruin such activities as tours to spot owls and other nocturnal wildlife.

"The idea of doing that at night with snowmobiles ringing this place with lights and noise is kind of the antithesis of what we designed this place for," Graff said.

The club challenged the state's right to put the trail on its property in November. A judge agreed the trail would cause "irreparable harm" to the club, but he declined to temporarily close it.

A trial is set for July. The core legal issue is whether the state has the right to use land under a second, seasonal railroad on club property.

Paul Gray, chief of the state Bureau of Trails, urged patience and said the government is open to negotiation.

"Give us a little time here," he said. "We'll get this all worked out."

Source: Associated Press

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