I try to get up to NEK at least a couple times per year. The town of East Burke and the trails that put it on the map have easily reached mecca status, on par with Moab or Crested Butte. I like NEK because I can do monster climbs, take in great views, and ride trails all day without seeing anything twice.
I think NEK is getting loved to death though. Every weekend, hundreds of riders converge on East Burke from Canada and across the USA. Trails generally stay open rain or shine. The loamy soil doesn't hold up well to such abuse. It has been a pretty wet summer. Sending hundreds of knobby tires over wet, black loam quickly creates pits of quagmire, not unlike many ATV trails in the northeast. To make matters worse, riders will tend to skirt around wet spots for myriad reasons - keeping the bike clean, fear of what lurks within, crashing, etc. This widens the trail, makes the mud holes bigger, and even braids the trail when other obstacles prevent continuous widening.
I was surprised to find my favorite NEK trails pretty messy on the 4th. These are all part of the Burke Mtn trail system. They tend to be the last to dry out in spring and after rain. I thought it hadn't rained in at least a few days there. To make matters worse, Dead Moose Alley was logged this winter. The logging operation obliterated some of the drainage structures. Long stretches of the trail were saturated, severely braided and generally unrideable with logging slash mixed in.
So I started thinking deep thoughts. Am I just so absorbed into the thought that NEK is The Place to ride in New England that I'm blind to anything that says otherwise? I drive 5+ hours round trip, pay $15 trail fee, to ride crowded, braided trails that trash my bike. Why? Is it sacrilegious to think of NEK in this light? NEK seems to be a religion to some. I could ride better maintained, less abused trails much closer to home.
Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed my ride on the 4th. I won't stop going there. There are several other comparable destinations to ride in New England today, thanks to the efforts of NEMBA and other local trail building groups. North Conway, NH provides an experience closest to what I seek out west. The growing STAB trail network in Brownsville, VT is gaining notoriety. Close to home I have Bear Brook State Park, 10,000 acres chocked full of NEMBA built singletrack. With so many premium choices, NEK starts to drop down the list of best places to ride in New England.
Looking west(ish) from fire tower on Burke summit
Looking south from the fire tower
Willoughby Gap from part way down the summit road
Braiding through wet section on Dead Moose Alley trail
Burke Mountain from Heaven's Bench
Red clover and other flowers on Darling Hill
Lowell fireworks from UMass Lowell parking garage upper deck