Standing barely 300 feet above sea level, the summit of Freeport’s Hedgehog Mountain is more hilltop than peak. Still, Midcoast hikers, dogwalkers and cross-country skiers have flocked to the site for decades to enjoy more than 5 miles of forested trails and scenic views of the surrounding area.

In recent weeks, the peaceful spot has become the center of a public debate about Freeport’s relationship with the natural world, as the Town Council weighs a plan for an expansive mountain bike trail system against warnings from the town’s Conservation Commission the proposal could exacerbate erosion issues.

The Freeport Chamber of Commerce and the New England Mountain Biking Association have been working for more than two years on a plan to make Hedgehog Mountain a premier destination for Maine’s growing number of off-road cyclists, according to Tawni Whitney, the chamber’s executive director. She believes the proposed 6.3 miles of beginner, intermediate and advanced trails would aid local businesses by drawing a steady stream of visitors to Freeport, especially during the otherwise quiet winter months.

“This is an opportunity,” she said. “I just so believe in this project as a right direction for Freeport.”

Bringing more bikers to Hedgehog could benefit the local economy, but it may prove harmful to the mountain itself, according to a recently released report from the Freeport Conservation Commission.

The group’s long-awaited proposed revision to the town’s Hedgehog Mountain Management Plan, like its original 2004 plan, says mountain bikes should not be allowed in the mountain’s summit area due to risk of increased erosion.


Commission member Margaret Gerber warned the Town Council at a public hearing last Tuesday that soil loss could harm local plant life, contribute to climate change and lead to increased stormwater runoff. She said the amount of soil covering Hedgehog’s summit has depleted from about 14 inches to 6 inches or less in some areas since 2004.

“That’s 20 years with just natural, for the most part, undisturbed change,” she said. “If you add more impacts to that it’s going to happen a lot faster.”

Matt Warner, president of Greater Portland NEMBA, called the commission’s assertion that biking would increase erosion “a misconception that we deal with a lot.”

According to a 2010 review of research on the ecological effects of mountain biking from the Miistakis Institute, cycling on well-built trails can result in similar or less erosion than foot traffic.

“The current trail is almost eroding under your feet as you walk on it,” Warner said. “We would fix up that trail (and) build four more miles of trails on the mountain itself, all of which would be carefully and professionally built to avoid erosion.”

Some of the fifteen members of the public who spoke at Jan. 17’s hearing lent their support to the biking trail, citing the need for more recreation spots and the opportunity to support businesses. Others pushed the council to adopt the commission’s more conservative plan, fearing larger crowds could harm Hedgehog’s ecosystem and make current trails less accessible to walkers.

The council opted for a middle path, tabling a decision on the commission’s proposed management plan so the group can meet with proponents of the bike plan to discuss a compromise.

The two sides will likely come together this week to discuss whether they can find a way to responsibly bring mountain bikes to Hedgehog Mountain, Whitney said. If they return to the council with an agreement in February, construction could begin on a new trail system as soon as this spring.

“Everybody wants the same thing,” Whitney said. “I really believe there is a path forward that will make both sides very happy.”

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