Idea of large outdoor recreation area surfaces again

LYNDEBOROUGH – More than three years after it first came up amid fierce resistance, helping launch a statewide debate about control of off-road vehicles, the idea of a huge outdoor recreational facility has returned – but this time, without the ATVs.

Laurent “Larry” and Sharon Boisvert, owners of Feel Good Farm on Johnson Corner Road, are again floating the idea of turning their 525 acres in town into an “outdoor recreation and conservation education facility” open to dues-paying members for everything from bird-watching to snowmobiling to paintball contests.

A similar plan was rejected in 2001 because it included overnight camping, which is forbidden in the town’s residential zoning. No overnight camping is contemplated in the new plan, development consultant Jim Phippard told the Planning Board at a discussion Thursday night.

Also not contemplated, he told board members, are ATVs.

“There is no proposal to allow ATVs to use the property,” Phippard said near the beginning of his presentation, anticipating questions to come.

ATVs are a touchy issue here because after the campground rejection, the Boisverts wanted to open the property to public off-road vehicle use under a state program encouraging such trails on private property.

Again the town objected, saying it would draw too much traffic on winding Johnson Corner Road, and that the plan needed town oversight to ensure that abutters weren’t harmed.

Boisvert and the state disputed the town’s role, leading to an argument that went clear to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. In May, the state’s highest court sided with Lyndeborough, saying plans for public ATV trails had to get site-plan review from the Planning Board.

Thursday’s presentation was the first step toward a likely request for site plan review of the new proposal.

According to Phippard, the Boisverts have no current plans to extend an outdoor center across Purgatory Brook onto roughly 250 acres they own in Mont Vernon. But, he said, such expansion would be likely in the future.

As presented by Phippard, the Boisverts are looking to create a facility that would operate roughly like a golf club, except without a golf course.

It would have a membership of roughly 300 to 400 people, who would pay dues. They and their guests would be the only people allowed to use the property, and would have to schedule their arrivals.

“This wouldn’t be something where people could drive up and pay $5 and use it,” Phippard said. “We recognize the need to have some type of control so there aren’t too many people at one time.”

The property is already criss-crossed by trails, including some improved by ATV clubs, and these would be used for various outdoor activities.

Although ATV usage is not envisioned, snowmobile usage is – which didn’t seem to bother the Planning Board.

“There are snowmobile trails all over this town,” said Planning Board member Bob Rogers. “It’s a different kind of activity (from ATVs).”

Some audience members expressed concern about members crossing onto adjoining property. One man noted that if abutters had to post their property to keep people away, it could endanger a portion of their “current use” tax breaks, which require that land be left open for public recreation.

However, another person noted that outdoor recreation would be preferable to “seeing it divided into 20-acre house lots.”

The matter is likely to come before the Planning Board again at its November meeting.