With an estimated 50,000 resident riders and 60,000 visits just to Kingdom Trails alone last year, Vermont has seen an explosion in mountain biking. But it wasn’t long ago it suffered from a poor image and limited access. Until recently, the infamous Stowe Mountain Bike Club’s Perry Hill Trails, on State land in Waterbury, were illegal, mountain biking was excluded from Vermont’s National forests, and ski areas considered gravel access roads to be good riding.
Now, thanks to coordinated efforts, the rock-drop-filled Perry Hill network is one of the more popular public spots to ride, National forest land like Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Goshen and Blueberry Lake in Warren are laced with miles of singletrack, and ski areas like Sugarbush, Burke Mountain, and Trapp Family Lodge have added robust summer operations. With 800 total miles of trail, Vermont is on the map for one of the best mountain bike scenes in the East.
The recipe for success included the visionary thinking of local mountain bike clubs, formed around their community’s interest in hitting the trails on two wheels and their legendary trail builders’ abilities to make it fun. In the process of legalizing Perry Hill, the State of Vermont became an important supporter.
In the late ‘90s, another key ingredient emerged: the Vermont Mountain Bike Association. Made up of local mountain bike chapters, like the Stowe club and Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association, VMBA (pronounced VIM-bah) served as a unified voice at the State level and provided an opportunity for chapters to learn from each other. As trails were legalized and more were built on State land, VMBA was designated official trail corridor manager.
From 2006 to 2012, VMBA’s first executive director, Patrick Kell, moved mountain biking from a well-kept secret to a touted asset with public access. He broke ground on public land that had previously excluded mountain biking, introduced ski areas to experts like Gravity Logic, a mountain bike park developer based in British Columbia, and brought riders together with movie nights, the Green Mountain Showdown photography competition along with Mountain Bike Vermont, and the Vermont Mountain Bike Festival. The events brought a sense of camaraderie to a formerly disconnected group, and were a turning point in advocacy. Former MAMBA President Jase Roberts says of Kell, “He really stepped things up a notch for mountain biking in Vermont.”
Kell left VMBA in 2012 to join the International Mountain Bike Association, and new executive director, Tom Stuessy, is transforming VMBA to more broadly focus on statewide advocacy and stewardship. He’s building on VMBA’s existing relationships with Vermont’s Forest, Parks & Recreation Department and Department of Tourism & Marketing to develop long-term strategies for growth and he’s looking to Vermont’s riders to lead the way.
Megan Smith, Vermont’s tourism commissioner, understands the potential for tourism by attracting the rider demographic to Vermont. “Mountain biking is potentially the next really big boon for tourism in the state,” she says, and she wants her organization to support VMBA by including three-year funding in the department’s budget. Smith says of VMBA’s new directions, “I want to see it mirror Ski Vermont,” referring to the potential to grow the Vermont mountain bike brand.
Beyond tourism and marketing, there are the trails themselves. Seventy percent of Vermont’s riding is on private land. “If all our landowners decided tomorrow they didn’t want mountain biking, it would be over,” Stuessy says.. But he’s planning for that, too, by partnering with FPR on a 10-year expansion of mountain bike trails on State land. As Craig Whipple, director of Vermont State Parks puts it, “It’s an example of the maturing of the organization.”
While VMBA works closely with state agencies to gain trail access, it in turn empowers the local chapters to build and maintain trails. Twenty-three chapters now pay annual dues in exchange for umbrella 501c3 status, deeply discounted insurance, a landowner relations packet that includes explanations of state policy plus official state endorsements, access to grants, and representation at the state level. This has been effective on many levels, as the Stowe club’s president, Jay Provencher, said. “The value,” he said, “is having one point of contact with the state, versus 23.”
VMBA and the state can lay the best plans, but nothing would get built without local chapters, whose members have built today’s vibrant mountain bike scene. Still, only 1 in 50 of Vermont’s riders are members of a local chapter. Nobody wants to pay dues,” Provencher says.
But chapters need cash to build and maintain trails. “There is no free riding in Vermont,” Stuessy says. “Every trail costs something to design, construct, and maintain, and someone is paying for it.” Chapters like the Stowe club are looking into new ways to collect money, such as technology to collect day-use fees at trailhead kiosks, but more important, VMBA is strongly promoting chapter membership.
New this year, Stuessy also wants riders to join VMBA. His goal: “Chapters are unified, the value of VMBA is recognized and understood, and riders recognize they have a responsibility for what they ride and are passionate for.” VMBA membership is a new layer of cost for riders, although there are a long list of member benefits like free passes and business discounts, but Stuessy is quick to point out it’s about more than just money: “It’s support for an end that is larger than ourselves, and it sets an example. The benefits we get back as riders are a hundred-fold.”
Vermont’s riders no doubt have it good. “Vermonters enjoy one of the very best mountain biking cultures in the country,” Steussy says. With public access, more trails, increased tourism dollars, and a growing rider membership, all signs point to things only getting better.
2013 Vermont Mountain Bike Festival
July 13 & 14, 2013
Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB), Ascutney, Vermont
The Sports Trails of the Ascutney Basin is host to some of the best riding in the state with a diverse mix of trails to keep everyone having a great time. Inviting to both beginner and advanced riders, this festival will be a blast. Festival highlights include 50 miles of singletrack, on-site camping and hotel, an on-site bike shop, guided rides, clinics, a BBQ, live music, family-friendly area attractions, and so much more. See full details and register online at vmba.org/festival.
In addition to supporting trails, events, and the best riding scene in the East, benefits of membership include discounts at ski resorts and Highland Mountain Bike Park, free and discounted trail passes at several touring centers, a free subscription to Dirt Rag Magazine, free day passes to Vermont State Parks, and discounts at businesses around the state. See the full list of benefits and join online at vmba.org/membership.