WILMINGTON — The AuSable River tumbled down, crossing under state Route 86 in Wilmington, as several mountain bikers geared up for a Sunday afternoon ride on the Wild Forest Flume Trail System.
It was warm and humid, but the day managed to undermine the forecast, holding off rain with a dusting of clouds spread across the blue sky.
The large dirt pull off at the head of the Flume trail — just past the Hungry Trout Restaurant heading east on 86 — was lined with cars and SUVs, and although the lot provides access to a few choice fishing holes along a deep section of the AuSable, most of the vehicles were strapped with bike racks.
“In general, Wilmington has become a real bike-friendly place.” said Bert Yost, mountain biking coordinator for the town of Wilmington. “The Flume trail gets a lot of good use. My wife and I are actually putting on our shoes right now to head out there for a ride.”
Used by locals for years as mountain biking and hiking trails, the Flume Trail System was officially opened last spring as one of the only places in the state Forest Preserve specifically designed for mountain biking. And best of all: it’s open to the public, free of charge.
The trails provide a great setting through dense forests along the side of Marble Mountain with a wide variety of terrain for all levels: from those just getting the feel for coasting along a dirt path, to more extreme bikers who hop across rock and roots with ease.
“We were trying to make sure we have something for everyone,” Yost said. “That’s always been a goal.”
According to Yost, the trail was first designed by a small group of volunteers called the Wilmington Mountain Peddlers — of which he was a founding member — who have worked with the state Department of Conservation over the years to improve access for hikers and bikers.
“The other day I was looking at old proposals we had written,” Yost said, “and in the past 10 years we have accomplished everything we wanted to.”
The trail starts off wide and flat, turning past a large sign-in booth displaying a map of the trail system. Twenty different trails with names such as Delta, Erratic, Rock Garden and Ridge are numbered and marked with different levels of difficulty from easy and moderate to hard, which makes planning a route before starting very doable.
But with only 8 miles of trails to explore, which are well-marked with brown and yellow DEC tags, it’s nearly impossible to get lost, one option is to go with your gut, pick a trail and see where it takes you.
Most of the interlocking trails are no longer than a mile, so if bikers ever feel uncomfortable there’s no shame in turning around or hopping off and gracefully walking the bike across obstacles and particularly treacherous terrain. (Don’t forget your helmet.)
Among the most challenging — and longest — of the single-lane trails that up Marble Mountain in a series of switch-backs is the Ridge trail, a 1.5 mile loop that extends off of the Upper Whiteface connector trail. Be ready for lots of rocks and protruding roots that make for a very technical ride.
“I was really impressed with the Ridge trail,” said Jim Finucane, as he and Chris Priebke, both up for the day from Warwick, began loading their bikes back in the parking lot after riding the system. “It almost reminded me of something you would see out in the Pacific Northwest — really, a top-notch trail.”
Finucane also said he was impressed by the amount of work that must have gone into clearing and maintaining the trails. A DEC sign at the head of the trail made it clear that, “(the) trail network was built, and is maintained almost entirely by volunteers.”
For those looking for something a little less challenging than the Ridge Trail, the Lower Whiteface Connector offers a nice, easy-going ride along the banks of the AuSable River. The wide trail goes for about a mile, bridging the trail head on Route 86 and the Bear Den parking lot near Kid’s Campus at Whiteface Mountain.
“The scenery is incredible … you just can’t beat it,” said Jack Lane, who works at the High Peaks Cyclery on Main Street. “A lot of people like that trail because you can take a ride and then jump into the swimming hole nearby.”
Lane also said he often recommends the trail to people who come into the shop looking for ideas on where to ride.
“You can definitely get into some advanced stuff,” Lane said. “But it’s also super fun and beginner friendly.”
Bob Tysen, who also works at High Peaks Cyclery, used to race mountain bikes professionally. He said one of the first things he considers when recommending trails to patrons is their experience.
“It all depends on their level,” Tysen said.
He said he typically suggests beginners — those who have little to no riding experience — start by riding Whitney Road (off Mirror Lake Drive) or Mt. Van Hoevenberg. He added that the more experienced bicyclists who venture to the Flume trails usually enjoy the riding.
“Everyone who goes there, loves the trails,” Tysen said.
Melyssa Smith of Scotia who has been visiting the area for 15 years, was camping along side the Flume Trail for the weekend. As she was carrying her gear back toward the parking lot she paused and pointed out a Great Blue Heron nest, sitting high above a beaver pond near the head of the trail.
She also pointed out that she had seen a steady flow of mountain bikers using the trail system over the weekend, adding that each time she and her camping companions saw a bicyclist, it increased her desire to pursue the activity.
“We looked at each other and said ‘Oh yeah,’” Smith said, adding that she also plans to get her two children — a 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter — set up to enjoy mountain biking.
“We’re going to get racks and helmets — everything. It’s definitely something I want to get my kids into doing,” Smith said. “We already hike, camp and (explore) cave(s).”
Rob, Seana and Emily Franz, of Toronto, Canada, were also near the trailhead, unloading their mountain bikes in the parking lot and said a Main Street store employee recommended the Flume trails. The family has visited the area often, but this was the first time they were hitting mountain biking trails.
Rob stressed that such an excursion is a great family activity.
“We’ve been to Lake Placid many times. We love the Adirondacks — it’s just a beautiful part of the world,” Rob said. “And it’s (mountain biking) an excellent way to get out with the family.”
Seana said although she has never been on mountain trails, she’s confident she’ll have no problem riding.
“I’ve ridden my bike on the road, but have never officially been mountain biking,” she said, adding that it is an activity one doesn’t have to practice. “You never forget how to ride a bike.”
Bike rentals and
other trail areas
For those who need to rent a bike the High Peaks Cyclery offers hassle free rentals for $35 a day. They also operate the High Peaks Mountain Bike Center at Mount Van Hoevenberg (518-523-1402), which is now open seven days a week through Labor Day weekend. Rentals are available at both locations.
The center offers 50k of trails for all ability levels, as well as lessons and guided trips. According to the High Peaks website (www.highpeakscyclery.com), the bike center is also host to a number of events including trail runs, mountain bike races, off road duathlons, kid’s activities and fun-not-fear riding camps.
For bikers just starting out, this may be a good option. Because Van Hoevenberg is designed as a cross-country ski area, many of the trails are flat and wide. Hours of operation are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week and a trail pass is $6.
Placid Planet, a bike shop on Saranac Avenue in Lake Placid also offer bike rentals for $30 per day. For more information, call 518-523-4128 or visit www.placidplanetbicycles.com.
With the Wild Forest Flume Trail System now connected to Whiteface ski center, there are many options to combine the two for a memorable experience. Whiteface offers a wide variety from expert downhill mountain biking (on five different ski runs) to cross county trails and everything in between. There is a total of 27 trails.
For downhill runs an adult lift ticket up the gondola costs $35 (children under 12, $24) and a pass for cross country trails for $10.
Rentals for bikes and pads are also available, ranging from $40 to $80 per day depending on the package. For more information visit: www.whiteface.com. or call 946-2223 ext. 7.
contributed to this report.
A mountain biker checks out a trail along the Wild Forest Flume Trail System on state Route 86 in Wilmington. Trail riding and hiking is available for free.
Photo/Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News