Sunday, July 5, 2015

Is It Sacrilegious To...

On the 4th of July, I had hoped to hit the Mad River trails in Warren, VT.  As a bonus, I had also hoped to bag Lincoln Peak, a ski area peak I haven't ridden to yet (3000+ ft net gain!). The weather radar loop in the morning suggested I should go a little further north and east to minimize any chance encounter with rain. I settled for the Northeast Kingdom trails (NEK).

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


Dan Sloan said...

I was told that the people of Burke kind of insisted on not closing the trails when wet because of the vacationers who would not like to rent a room or house or travel long distances and find them closed. So, thats why you see alot more wooden boardwalks etc. Its too bad and a nightmare for the trail crew but money talks

Anonymous said...

I had similar thoughts when riding there last weekend. The whole computerized check-in system I riding trails or checking in for a plane flight? The trails on Burke Mtn were an absolute mess last weekend too. But alas, once in to Darling hill everything was forgiven. Still the largest interruption free, and high quality, single track network in the Northeast

Paul said...

This is starting to become a common theme in many places; there may be too much emphasis on trail *building* and not enough on trail *maintenance*.

Of course, it helps if the original trail was built to be sustainable. The picture of the mud pit.... that just screams out for either a short section of bridge, or some rock armoring. Yes, that makes the trail much harder and more expensive to build; but it's a one time thing, which should last for years.

Dan Sloan said...

Perhaps you didn't see my original post, the problem isn't lack of maintenance, the problem is that the trails are never closed, no mater how wet or muddy. The town officials do not want anything closed because they don't want to piss off the vacationers. Unless you armor all the trails they will continue to deteriorate. Before they started this policy they closed the trails if the sidewalks were wet and had few issues

Anonymous said...

Trail closure depends on the condition of individual trails. At no time do all of the trails close. I'm not sure the town officials care or even think about what trail is closed or not. As a "Burke person" I can say that the relationship between the trails, out-of-town riders and locals is complex and becoming more so all of the time. On any given weekend night it may sound like a war zone at my house thanks to vacationers setting off fireworks so I appreciate Doug's consideration of eschewing KT for other places as the situation in the village (which recently won a vote, by one vote, to do away with restrictions on what can be considered a "campground")has reached critical mass. It's out of control. Also, I live on the trails and as a result my property assessment has recently skyrocketed and six (one of which is a new $3,000,000 home) of the houses next to mine have become vacation homes. When I moved here they were all local residents. The perception that the town is licking its chops and slobbering over the idea of mountain biking run amok is a very simplified one, and not necessarily close to the reality of what's going on.