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Wilmington as the Adirondack Park’s mountain bike capital

November 20, 2014
Editorial , Lake Placid News

Like many other people, we believe Wilmington can and should become the Adirondack Park's mountain biking hub. There are trails down Whiteface Mountain, plus the Flume trails connecting to the ski center. It would be valuable to connect those to the hamlet of Wilmington with new trails, and then some, and that would involve the Wilmington Wild Forest to the north and east of Whiteface Mountain.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is doing the right thing by reopening, with proper caution, the Wilmington Wild Forest's unit management plan. Of the many sections of the state-owned Adirondack Forest Preserve, this one was last planned relatively recently, in 2005. Each UMP is officially good for only five years and should be updated after that time, but updates don't normally happen anywhere near that often. The state doesn't have enough staff. Actually, reopening a UMP that's only nine years old is a bit of an express route, as these things go.

It's justified here. The calls for more trails are broad-based: from town officials and snowmobilers (who would also use the new trails) and a regional mountain biker alliance. They can also show positive evidence based on activity at the recently added mountain bike trails nearby. If there have been any environmental protests, we haven't heard them, but we have heard a great deal about how bicycling has been good to Wilmington's economy. Bike races have been added and expanded, and the annual Bike Week now draws more people to the town than any other single event. Wilmington is using its natural and human-modified assets to satisfy people who love various outdoor activities: fly fishing, skiing, swimming, snowmobiling and mountain biking.

We agree with Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston's call for lower-intensity trails where families and amateurs can ride, not just the hard-cores. Also, a new trail connecting the existing trail network to the hamlet's commercial core would help connect those outdoor enthusiasts with restaurants, hotels and other amenities, to mutual advantage.

A similar connection in the other direction, to Lake Placid, is not possible at this time. Between the Olympic Village and the Olympic Mountain, Whiteface, is state land classified as wilderness, the most restrictive level that does not allow mountain bikes or snowmobiles. The Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA), which has developed trails in Wilmington as well as Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, isn't going to fight that.

"If you're going into a wilderness area, you don't expect to see bikes, and that's fair," BETA President Matt McNamara said. "We're not pushing to opening all wilderness to bikes. That's not the deal."

The wilderness restriction is there for a reason, acknowledging that mountain bikers do cause serious erosion and can come into conflict with hikers. DEC and BETA are working together to plan trails that minimize these concerns, but it's not for everywhere.

However, that means that the mountain biking capital will stay cut off from the village which has many more people, especially the active types who enjoy riding bikes. For all Lake Placid's Ironman-driven fitness boom of recent years, it remains a place that's hard to get out of on a bike: One either has to brave the tight Wilmington Notch or Cascade lakes, or the busy Sara-Placid highway - all scary.

While a solution to that problem remains elusive, maybe what Wilmington is doing will prompt more people to book their vacation stay there instead, which wouldn't be a bad thing.

Mountain bikers are looking to find their place in the Park, and it seems like Wilmington is a good fit for them.

 
 

 

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