May 12, 2013

New trails for bikes to blaze

If the New England Mountain Bike Association's newest chapter gets its way, there'll be new paths from Millinocket to Searsport.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OLD TOWN - The mountain bike riders of the Bangor region have a unique dilemma these days: Too much open land, too many miles of trails, not enough time to clear it and go ride.

click image to enlarge

Eastern Maine mountain bike riders are grabbing hold of their destiny, and quite literally, dirt, having cleared a single track in Old Town last weekend on rugged terrain that just so happens to be ideal for adventurous cycling. The project has the blessing of the University of Maine – a significant divergence from the past.

Deirdre Fleming Photo

"We've got a lot on our plate right now," said Erik Dasilva, the president of the New England Mountain Bike Association's newest chapter.

The entirety of the Penobscot watershed amounts to a massive, amazing forested region. And Dasilva said the goal for the 5-month-old club is to create trails throughout all of it: From Millinocket to Searsport.

And the land of eastern Maine, rough, unforgiving and boulder-ridden, just happens to be ideal mountain bike terrain.

The business of approaching landowners, gaining permission and building trails is not unlike what has been done by the other NEMBA chapters: In the midcoast region; in Augusta; southern Maine and up around Carrabassett Valley.

Now Eastern Maine riders are grabbing hold of their destiny and, quite literally, dirt.

Last weekend about two dozen came out to shovel, rake and move mounds of it along some eight miles of new single track trail in an 850-acre parcel managed by the University of Maine. Single track is akin to hiking-trail-sized paths for mountain bikers. And all these riders needed was permission. Then they cheerfully showed up in Carhartts and work boots to saw and shovel among the black flies.

This day they were building with the blessing of the university, a significant divergence from the past.

"In the University of Maine forest there has been tremendous trail development. We had zero permission. It was not sustainable," Dasilva said.

There is just under 2,000 acres in the university around Orono, said University of Maine forester Al Kimball. And throughout that entire forestland, rogue trail builders have been a problem for more than 10 years.

"We identified the problem a decade ago but didn't take positive steps to solve it," Kimball said. "Last spring I got an email from mountain biker Deb Merrill. She wanted to work with us on developing some single track out there. She was the intermediary for the mountain bikers. This is new to them. It's a real turnaround. It's exciting."

Merrill talked to Kimball about developing trails on university land. A conversation began around how such trails would be developed and maintained. Soon after, the Penobscot Region NEMBA chapter was formed.

Up until that point Kimball considered mountain bikers no different from beavers -- unwanted guests who tore down trees. But the Boston-Based NEMBA foundation has a different approach that has spread across the Northeast: Form organized chapters; work with landowners to gain access; train trail crews to build trails; play responsibly.

Lucy Quimby at Bangor Land Trust said her group's conversations with the NEMBA riders are enlightening and positive.

"We're looking forward to a long-term collaboration on developing trails," said Quimby, the land trust's executive director.

And in Dedham trails are being built by the club on a 650-acre parcel owned by the town, selectmen-approved and very soon mountain-bike ready.

Such trails serve as multiuse corridors that also can be used by hikers, equestrians, bird hunters and dog walkers.

Now after years of cursing mountain bikers, Kimball is glad the NEMBA movement moved east.

"I thought it was (undergraduate) students building the rogue trails. It's not. The demographics of these people is closer to 40. It is not the student community. It's the community at large," Kimball said.

"When I see photos of the club doing trail work, some of them are 50-plus. But they're like spring chickens because they have no fat and they ride these crazy trails."

Indeed, at the trail day in Old Town on May 4, riders who have been rock hopping on unofficial trails there for 20, 30, even 50 years came out of the woods slapping high-fives.

Kimball compares the club's devotion to that of the Maine Snowmobile Association clubs a quarter of a century ago.

He is as surprised at their newly harnessed commitment as he is the terrain they ride.

"They give me coordinates, I go walk it and say, 'Fine, go build trails.' And, honestly, within two weeks of approving trails, they've got it brushed and raked with the roots cut. They are an army," Kimball said.

TO LEARN MORE about the Penobscot Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, go to pr.nemba.org.

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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