WILMINGTON - Adirondack Park Agency staff and board members took a break from their regular meeting Thursday afternoon, July 10, and headed to the Beaver Brook Tract on the Hardy Road to study the growing mountain bike tourism industry.
This section of the state-owned Wilmington Wild Forest is part of a network of mountain bike trails that town officials are using to attract visitors in the hope of boosting the local economy. While Wilmington is looking to the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont as a model for mountain bike tourism, other Adirondack communities hope to use Wilmington as a model. So far, according to town of Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston, the economic benefits have been "huge."
"We've got really good momentum going on here," Preston said, adding that the town's recent bike festival was "three days of biking bliss."
News photos — Andy Flynn
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director Fred Monroe, front, takes a ride on one of the Beaver Brook Tract mountain bike trails in Wilmington Thursday, July 10 with Dan Kelleher, Adirondack Park Agency special assistant for economic affairs. The APA took a break from their regular meeting in the afternoon to get a firsthand look at the growing mountain bike tourism industry.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)
Standing under a white pop-up tent at the Beaver Brook Tract trailhead, Preston welcomed a crowd of about 30 people, including APA staff and board members, state Department of Environmental Conservation officials and about a dozen local business owners.
"I can't say enough about the success having these mountain bike trails both here and at The Flume," Preston said. "They're also great hiking and cross-country ski and snowshoe trails. I'm really happy we were able to partner with the DEC to make this a true success story."
Town officials are looking to expand the mountain bike offerings, working with DEC staff to add more mileage.
"If you say, 'Mountain biking's not for me,' I can assure you that if you hike into the trails on either side of the road here, the vistas are absolutely breathtaking," Preston said. "I'm not an avid mountain biker, but I have hiked on every trail here on both sides of the road and at The Flume, and I do it quite frequently. I normally see characters like McKeever flying by."
The supervisor was referring to APA spokesman Keith McKeever, who lives in Wilmington and is an active member of the Barkeater Trails Alliance, a group of volunteer mountain bike enthusiasts who help develop and maintain trails in the Olympic Region.
"I want to thank Keith for getting our board outside and out of a meeting this afternoon," said APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich, of Old Forge. "We are so excited to be working really closely with the DEC every step of the way to make things like this happen. As a community person from the other side of the park, I envy how quickly you all have pulled this together."
The Forest Preserve is maintained by the DEC, which has created public and private partnerships to develop many of the mountain biking trails in Wilmington.
"The whole partnership between the state and local governments to make this happen is really manifesting itself in projects like this," said DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegmann, who is a designee on the APA Board of Commissioners. "One of the biggest objectives we have at the DEC and the APA is to connect our communities to the Forest Preserve and take this beautiful asset we have and make it helpful to the communities, make it something we all enjoy and bring people here to enjoy."
Robert Daley, from the DEC Region 5 Division of Lands and Forests, was the staffer on the ground working on these trails. On Thursday, he gave credit to local officials and volunteers for creating the trail systems.
"The town was always there to help," Daley said. "And a lot of the folks from BETA and local mountain bikers stepped up from the beginning, and that's essentially the true success of this trail system and The Flume."
McKeever echoed Stegmann's comments about partnerships, saying much work needs to be done to continue connecting communities with mountain bike trails on state land.
"We're really working with Matt (McNamara), our chairman from BETA, and Josh (Wilson) of the New York Bicycling Coalition ... to build trails in Wilmington, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and on over to Black Brook," McKeever said. "The density of trails we need to make this a destination for mountain biking really combines all these units."
The Northeast Kingdom, McKeever said, attracts about 60,000 tourists a season for mountain biking.
"That results in six to nine million dollars into local businesses," McKeever said. "Compared to that, the High Peaks Wilderness are about 40,000 for the year, so if we could tap into the mountain bike potential, we could really start to add to the economics in a way that's low-impact as has a really good cost benefit."
Town of Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe sits on the APA Board as executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. Before the speeches, he took a quick spin on a mountain bike, an activity he hasn't done in years but one he sees as a potential draw for his own town.
"I know what they've done in the Northeast Kingdom and how it's helped to improve the economy there, and I think it can be done in other places," Monroe said.
The town of Chester currently doesn't have any mountain bike trails, but officials there have secured a grant to draft a townwide recreation plan to help improve the economy. Trails could be developed in public places like the town-owned ski slope, Dynamite Hill, and on private property.
"This is one of the things we've talked about," Monroe said about mountain biking. "One of the members of the advisory group owns Natural Stone Bridge and Caves, and they've got over a thousand acres, and he's considering putting in trails on that property."
Board members and designees who made the trip to Wilmington also included Art Lussi of Lake Placid and Bradley Austin from the state Department of Economic Development.
Some of the businesses represented at the field trip were the Little Supermarket, Adirondack Sauna, Hungry Trout Restaurant, Alpine Country Inn & Suites, LeepOff Cycles, Up A Creek Restaurant, Willkommen Hof Bed & Breakfast and Adirondack Chocolates (Candy Man).
After the speeches, many people in the crowd either hiked or mountain biked some of the trails with bikes and guidance provided by LeepOff Cycles.
For more information about mountain biking trails in the Tri-Lakes region, including maps, visit BETA online at barkeatertrails.org.