The Freeport Town Council narrowly voted Tuesday evening to adopt a Hedgehog Mountain Management Plan that will continue the ban on bicycles on the mountain’s summit, effectively killing a multi-year effort to turn the area into a mountain biking destination.

“This is over,” Freeport Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tawni Whitley said of the bike trail proposal after the council’s 4-2 vote. “It’s 100% dead.”

Tuesday’s meeting was not technically a referendum on the proposed 6.3 miles of mountain biking terrain the Chamber of Commerce and the New England Mountain Biking Association have been working to bring to Freeport for more than two years. The council’s task was only to decide whether to adopt the Conservation Commission’s long-awaited update to the Hedgehog Mountain Management Plan.

But several councilors and speakers acknowledged that was a distinction without a difference; because the new management plan included a continued ban on bicycles at the mountain’s summit area, it would preclude the trail development project.

During a lengthy public comment period, more than 30 residents spoke on both sides of the debate, which boiled down to a single question: Should the town prioritize maintaining Hedgehog’s pristine character for walkers and wildlife or adding recreation opportunities that could get more residents outside and draw dollars to Freeport’s businesses?

Many attendees of last week’s Conservation Commission meeting returned to reiterate their argument that even a thoughtfully designed trail network would result in erosion and habitat destruction that could drive out native plants, birds and insects. Others said building summit trails for cyclists would contradict the property’s multi-use mission, as it would make the mountain less comfortable for walkers.


“You can love something to death,” resident Chalmers Hardenbergh said. “If you start permitting the 6 miles of mountain bike trails and access to the top, you are going to love this place to death.”

Unlike the Conservation Commission meeting, Tuesday’s discussion featured more than a dozen residents who argued in favor of allowing at least some mountain bike trails on the Hedgehog’s summit. Many cited the lack of alternative mountain biking opportunities in Freeport and the need for more avenues to get kids outside and away from screens.

Though the meeting never devolved into open conflict, speakers on both sides of the issue critiqued claims from their opponents. Some no-trail advocates expressed doubt as to whether the project would really bring dollars into Freeport, while some bikers argued opposition to the trail plan was merely NIMBYism dressed up as environmentalism.

“We don’t ruin ecology,” NEMBA president Matt Warner said. “We’re incredibly careful not to do that. Frankly, I’ve never before had to stand up anywhere and be defensive about being aligned with environmental interests as a club whose entire point is to get more people outside into the woods.”

“We might as well just put up a sign now my end of town: ‘We just say no in Freeport,’” said Planning Board member Andrew Arsenault, who spoke of the need to bring more young residents to town. “It’s time we start saying yes.”

Councilors Chip Lawrence, Darrel Fournier and Ed Bradley pushed to delay decision on the management plan until the council could gather and evaluate more concrete information on both the environmental and economic impacts of the proposed trails. But Bradley’s motion to table failed after the three other councilors present said they were prepared to make a decision. When pressed to vote on the management plan, Bradley joined Councilors Dan Piltch, Matthew Pillsbury and John Egan in accepting the plan.

Piltch and Pillsbury noted the council would maintain the power to change the management plan later should biking proponents bring compelling information forward.

But Whitley, surprised and discouraged that her plan to unite the community had turned so divisive, said she would stop pushing for a trail system on Hedgehog.

“My favorite slogan is ‘We’re better and stronger together,’ but we have not been that way,” she told the council shortly before the final vote. “What saddens me is that we really didn’t come together.”

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