CLAREMONT — Claimants that recreational vehicle trails contribute to local economies may soon have further evidence to support their assertion in Claremont, where a Hooksett man seeks to add to his chain of New Hampshire car wash businesses with a location on Washington Street.
On Monday, the Claremont Planning Board unanimously approved a site plan application to build a five-bay car wash at 313 Washington St., a 1.9-acre vacant lot located between O’Reilly Auto Parts and Maurice Auto-Truck.
The applicant, Tony Crawford of Hooksett, is the owner and operator of Circle T Car Wash, a chain of New Hampshire car washes with locations in Hooksett, Manchester, Exeter, Raymond and Merrimack and Londonderry.
Crawford’s proposed plan includes three automatic drive-through bays, two self-service bays with a total capacity to hold four vehicles and three vacuum islands.
Additionally there will be a designated parking station for ATV trailers, to allow riders to unload their ATVs for a wash.
Crawford, an ATV rider, decided to expand to Claremont after visiting the city on an ATV trip on the Cat Hole Trails, 55-mile wooded trail system spanning from Claremont and Newport.
“I stumbled upon (ATV) parking lot at Burger King,” Crawford said. “We came up here and stopped at Market Basket and bought some food. We went to Dunkin’ Donuts. We filled up our gas tanks here.”
Crawford said the sum of these assets indicated to him there was enough community and economic activity to support a car wash in Claremont.
Crawford’s story will no doubt embolden local ATV enthusiasts, who just last month were fighting to retain permission to access the Cat Hole Trails on Claremont-owned roads.
The Sullivan County ATV Club, a trail management group, spent two months this spring urging the Claremont City Council to renew its permission to use key city-owned Class V roads to access the trail system.
While the club had been permitted to use these roads since 2013, issues in 2020 — primarily from a dramatic surge in ATV ridership during the pandemic — drew complaints from neighbors, who urged the City Council to close the roads to ATVs, citing noise nuisances, unlawful speeding and dust pollution.
The dust pollution was primarily due to the city’s change in road material last year to a dirt hardpack to fill holes rather than asphalt.
City Manager Ed Morris announced in May that the city plans to pave the road this year, which will mitigate the airborne dirt problem.
On Wednesday, May 26, the City Council, after multiple discussions and invitations of public comment, narrowly voted 5-4 to grant the club permission to the roads for another year.
During the Claremont deliberations ATV proponents, speaking at public meetings pointed to the significant economic benefits from supporting recreational vehicle activities. In addition to local spending in restaurants and stores by visiting riders, this tourism has even led to new residents and property owners.
Steven Wilkie, president of the Sullivan County ATV Club, said that Crawford’s discovery of Claremont through the ATV trails is not unprecedented.
“It does not surprise me that the trail activities bring people like (Mr. Crawford])here,” Wilkie told The Eagle Times. “The Cat Hole system has been an attraction as long as I’ve been on recreational vehicles, for over 40 years.”
Many people have bought property over the years specifically because of the access to the trails, Wilkie said.
The Sullivan County ATV Club opened the Cat Hole system this season on Saturday, June 5. In an effort this year to decrease speeding and other disruptive behavior, club members teamed with New Hampshire Fish and Game and Claremont Police to increase trail patrol. The club also installed new educational signage along the trail and educated each rider at the road entrances about riding courteously through the residential areas.
Wilke said the opening weekend ran smoothly, save for a group of speeders around 6 p.m. There was also less trail traffic this year than last year’s opening.