In northern Vermont, trying to make mountain biking easier
One of Ms. Long’s first actions as executive director, even before the landowners stepped down, was to commission a capacity study funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, to try to identify the worst weak points. The study found that trails were at 80% capacity, but surrounding infrastructure, such as parking lots, restrooms and connecting roads, were at 120% capacity. The association has built new car parks and trail connections to keep cyclists off the roads. They started a shuttle service between the town of East Burke and the most popular trails. Through a trail committee, of which Mr Manges is a member, they reached out to landowners in a wider area and began building trails in surrounding towns like East Haven, which now has its own brewery local craft, Earth Church.
The association has also tried to empower visiting runners, something difficult to do in a vacation town, where people can only stay for a weekend. Ms. Long said that after the trails were closed, Kingdom Trails immediately shifted all of its marketing efforts to education. He adopted a maxim from a nearby trail system, “Ride with Gratitude”, to encourage good behavior and remind visitors that it’s a rare privilege to ride on pristine private land – one they shouldn’t not screw up. Now, in addition to road signs, there are also signs to ride single file and respect landowners.
Now the border with Canada is open again and the whole town feels like it’s waiting to see what the summer biking season will bring. On a trail called Sidewinder, Mr. Manges and Tiaan van der Linde, another teacher and local biker, talk about issues such as the increased traffic they will face and how combining the trails could have a more positive impact on the community. They want more affordable housing; ways to train local kids for jobs that will keep them around; paths that meander to towns like West Burke, spreading wealth.
They know you don’t just get beautiful trails without people or an influx of tourists without crowds. And, like riding a bike, you have to do a million micro-movements to stay on track for the long haul. “We try to plan what we want instead of reacting to what happens to us, but you can’t predict the future,” van der Linde said.
He points his bike toward the trailhead and we circle around the Burkelyn Trail, green fields rolling beneath us in the distance as we pick up speed, riding gratefully.
Heather Hansman is the author of the recent book “Powder Days” and a contributing editor at Outside magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @hhansman.