t was no secret that during the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone spent more time outside. Nationally, sales of bikes and bike equipment doubled in March alone, according to the NPD Group. And in Vermont, many of those bikes were getting out on the trails.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented level trail building and the only thing that supersedes that is trail use,” said Tom Stuessy, the executive director of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA), where family memberships were up almost 20 percent.
Around the state trail projects forged ahead with both pros and volunteers pitching in. “I just asked the VMBA chapters for updates and what they sent back blew me away,” Stuessy said.
Kingdom Trails lost some of its prime connector trails last year when three landowners pulled out, closing some main arteries of the network. But this past summer, 13.5 miles of new trails went in—”the most ever in one summer,” says KT’s Lilias Ide. Included in that are trails that are contracted to complete Phase 2 of the Moose connections, as well as a skills park and five new trails off Darling Hill. Perhaps the crown jewel is Burklyn, a buffed, easy singletrack that weaves for two miles through the open clover meadows that surround Burklyn, the historic yellow mansion that crowns Darling Hill. The trail then dives across Darling Hill road, down to the switchbacks of Emma’s Sanctuary (also new).
We wanted to get people off the road as much as possible,” said Burklyn owner Jim Crone. Crone and his wife Marci bought the mansion and surrounding 86 acres in 2018 and reopened it as a supremely elegant 14-bedroom inn in August. Innkeeper Sharon Morse, an avid mountain biker who helped bring Elmer Darling’s 1904 mansion Burklyn back to life, also sits on a new committee of landowners that is now working with Kingdom Trails.
Closer to Burlington, a trail that Stuessy describes as one of the “best new downhills in the state” just opened. On Saturday, Sept. 19 the Fellowship of the Wheel planned a Covid-safe party with partners Outdoor Gear Exchange and others at Sleepy Hollow Inn, Ski and Bike Center to celebrate the opening of Kessel Run, a swoopy descent off Hans Solo (Star Wars fans, take note).
The Mad River Riders also found a creative way to celebrate its new trails with the “UnDuro.” As MRR’s John Atkinson wrote: “We’re celebrating all the new intermediate trails including Evolution II, the Featherbed and Localfolk Connectors, Sugarbush’s Lower Woods jump trail, last year’s Swell Hill and the Revolution upgrades with self-guided, any-time-you-want rides and hikes.” The new trails will help the network connect Sugarbush’s base area at Lincoln Peak with Waitsfield village.
The UnDuro idea: ride, walk or run them any time from Sept. 6 through Oct. 2nd, then, as Atkinson notes, “ Share your adventure(s), including pictures, artwork, a poem, anything that captures the fun and beauty of the new trails. Our UNexpert judges will pick winners and there will be random draw prizes too (including a Sugarbush season’s pass).”
The Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association hired Brooke Scatchard of Sinuousity to build out trails in North Branch Park. Additions and upgrades include a beginner/intermediate half-mile flow trail loop, a half-mile climbing trail, two short downhill flow trails and a hand-built single track downhill. A new pump track has also been built on Cummings Street. All will be open by the end of September.
This summer, in the Putnam State Forest off of River Road, Waterbury Area Trail Alliance volunteers put in more than 800 hours to complete a half-mile climb with 250 feet of elevation gain. Good clay soil and nice rocks form the surface of the trail and “a lot of people really enjoy the way it climbs,” said John Dustin, the president of WATA.
When it comes to climbing, the Rochester/Randolph Sport Trails Alliance has built trails to both climb and descend Abel Mountain in Randolph and is currently working on extending trails at Vermont Technical College. “We’re really excited about that network,” says RASTA’s Zac Freeman. A beginner/intermediate loop just south of the college will connect (this fall) to another two-mile trail north of the college. “There will be views all the way to Barre’s granite quarries,” says Freeman.
“We’re also working with Silloway Maple and hope to extend trails onto some of their property,” he says. “I can see being able to ride both VTC loops from the proposed new hotel, then stop at Silloway for a maple creemee and ride back – all of this just off the Randolph exit on I89.”
Meanwhile in Addison County, the Vermont Mountain Bike Association in association with the Moosalamoo Association, the Addison County Bike Club and the US Forest Service, is currently working on a major project that will upgrade the Oak Ridge Trail.
The roughly $100,000 upgrade of this 8.3-mile trail will improv about 4.6 miles of the trail along the flanks of Mount Moosamaloo. Forest Service funding is covering 80 percent of the cost, with VMBA matching the remaining 20 percent. Tom Lepesqueur & Daughters are the trailbuilders.
The purpose of the upgrade, says ACBC board member Ashar Nelson, is to take “a rugged, backcountry, somewhat unrideable trial (because of steepness) and make it into a rugged, backcountry ridable trail.” Adding switchbacks at “super steep sections” and addressing some wet spots, and other minor maintenance issues should complete the task by Nov. 1, 2020, Nelson said.
The trail sits within the 16,000-acre Moosalamoo National Recreation Area that lies between Route 125 (Middlebury Gap road) and Route 73 (Brandon Gap road). Connectivity is one of the goals with this project, which will connect East Middlebury and Ripton to the campground.
The Oak Ridge Trail upgrade is a precursor to a connector trail from the Moosalamoo Campground (which also has a new mile loop and a skills course built two years ago) to Silver Lake. Once that’s built, it would connect with the Chandler Ridge trail (4.3 miles) and the Leicester Hollow Trail (4.8 miles) and the Minnie Baker Trail (3 miles) — making a trail system spanning the MNRA for about 15 miles one way among the area’s 40-plus miles of designated trails.
Farther south, the Ascutney Trails Association has been improving their network to get more flow trails and finishing up a long-term project: the seven-mile connector trail from the Ascutney Outdoor Center to the entrance of Mt. Ascutney State Park. This trail will be opened in mid-October. The rugged climb is for intermediate riders. However, the climb is very much worth it, notes Jim Lyall, the trail manager of the Ascutney Trails Association, as the view looks out over the entire Ascutney valley.
Across the state in Poultney, Castleton, and Wells Vermont, Slate Valley Trails has plans to finish over 25 miles of trail by the end of 2020. Slate Valley Trails used to be three separate biking networks: Endless Brook, Lake St. Catherine and Fairgrounds. As of this fall, it is now one integrated network with over 35 miles of trail.
One of the new trails out of the Endless Brook area is an advanced .9-mile downhill trail with mandatory drops and rock jumps. The descent is about 541 feet from the top to the bottom, so make sure both the front and back brakes are tuned up for this ride. Since it opened at the end of August, the reaction has been positive. “We’re getting a lot of people emailing us saying ‘this is the best downhill trail in Vermont, and we are excited about offering this kind of terrain to our users,” said Andy Vermilyea, Slate Valley’s president.
Other new trails here include Porcupine a 2.2-mile-long, narrow single track that winds down a 614-foot descent with rest benches and lookouts with views of Lake St. Catherine State Park. The plan for the rest of the year is to create two more trails in Endless Brooke, one climbing trail up to the high point, and then a trail coming down. No specifics can be released yet, but this path will be .75 miles long and should be done by November.
Most of the Endless Brook area trails are geared toward intermediate and advanced riders, so Slate Valley Trails is also working on projects for kids and beginners to try out off the Fairgrounds trailhead. In the next couple of weeks, a half-mile loop called Tight Rope will be a twisty, flat loop to get the legs moving and get outside.
With Tight Rope will also come an area for new riders to try out different mountain bike features, including small natural terrain features, like rocks, for newbies to practice jumps and hitting bumps. All of this should be completed by the end of the year, and one of the final projects for Slate Valley Trails. An added bonus to both of these new trails is a connector parking lot.
“It’s cool, if you’re there with a family, somebody could go out riding, somebody could be hanging with the kids, it’s a little bit for everyone,” Vermilyea said.