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Mountain biking community speaks up for Wilmington trails at DEC meeting

November 21, 2014
By SHAUN KITTLE ( , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - Could this town be the mountain biking capital of the Adirondacks?

About 40 people gave state Department of Environmental Conservation representatives input on updates to the unit management plan for the Wilmington Wild Forest. The meeting was held at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center base lodge Wednesday, Nov. 12.

The 14,000-acre wild forest is located near the ski area. The majority of this section of state-owned Forest Preserve, called the Stephenson Range Tract, is north of state Route 431 and south of Forestdale Road. There is also a 3,407-acre parcel between the ski center, the Whiteface Veterans' Memorial Highway and state routes 431 and 86.

Smaller, isolated segments include the Hamlin Mountain, Clements Mountain and Beaver Brook tracts, and a parcel near the hamlet of Black Brook.

The UMP for the Wilmington Wild Forest was last updated in 2005.

"When it was completed, it states that it would be a five-year plan, but that's not something that we're required to do," the DEC's Steve Guglielmi said Wednesday. "We received comments from our partners, who were so instrumental in building the facilities, and the comments were that we need a few more trails to improve the networks and the trail systems in the area, and that there were some problem areas that could be rerouted and addressed."

Guglielmi works for the DEC's Region 5 Division of Lands and Forests. He explained that the only way to create or upgrade trails is to have the UMP amended to include those projects. The DEC decided to pursue that after it received numerous recommendations from the public.

Suggestions for new trails include one connecting the Wilmington Flume trail system to the hamlet in Wilmington and a mountain bike trail paralleling the existing downhill snowmobile trail that starts near the Atmospheric Science Research Center.

Suggestions for trail rerouting projects include the old T-bar line up Marble Mountain - Whiteface Ski Center's predecessor - eroded sections of the Cooper Kiln trail and a trail leading to the high ground on the east side of the road in the Beaver Brook area. More loop-trail options off of Hardy Road were also suggested.

Some of the attendees spoke at the meeting, while others wrote their comments down at one of three stations in the room.

Wilmington Town Supervisor Randy Preston told attendees that the turnout was encouraging.

"We've been pushing, prodding and kicking the DEC to reopen this unit management plan," Preston said. "We're hoping we can get some more (trail) mileage. We have a very positive thing, and we're hoping we can keep going on that momentum."

Preston said there is no shortage of volunteers for creating and maintaining trails - there are clubs and residents eager to help out - but first, the projects have to be approved.

At the top of Preston's list are a trail leading to the hamlet and scenic trails in the Beaver Brook area.

"I'd also like to see some more beginner trails," Preston said later. "I mean, these mountain bike guys, BETA (Bark Eater Trail Alliance), are hardcore, but we'd also like to have some more family-friendly stuff."

Preston said Wilmington could be poised to become the mountain biking capital of the Adirondacks.

"We have some of the best mountain biking there is," Preston said. "I think our town is getting more and more bike friendly. The whole community is really getting behind it. It's something Wilmington can own as being ours."

BETA President Matt McNamara acknowledged people's concerns about safety but said mountain bikers and hikers can coexist on trails. The volunteer-based organization has helped create trails in Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Wilmington.

"We're very interested in making sure that the trails we build and advocate for are planned in a way that recognizes where conflicts might occur, and addresses those," McNamara said. "Conflict on a trail can happen for a lot of reasons, but if you're thinking about it while you're planning, you can address it. It's just foresight."

McNamara said a shared trail should be a place where the experience of both users isn't unacceptably diminished. As much as he loves mountain biking, McNamara said it isn't a good fit for every trail.

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

McNamara noted that there are hundreds of miles of trails in the Adirondacks that take hikers into remote areas. He'd like to see some shorter trails created that grant easy access for bike rides or quick hikes, and said Wilmington is a good place to do that.

BETA has been working in conjunction with the Adirondack Ski Touring Council. Bill Frazer, president of the council, told attendees that the collaboration makes sense because "anytime we make a good mountain bike trail, we make a good ski trail."

He echoed McNamara's statement about creating more access to the wilderness and said mountain biking is taking hold in the area.

"Wilmington is really starting to hit the map with mountain biking," Frazer said. "One thing I think we could add to this is some kind of destination ride that separates us from all of the other areas in Vermont or New York. That would be some kind of backcountry long ride, that would be well built. It's not going to be easy, it's not going to happen overnight, and it's going to take resources."

Snowmobilers were also represented. Guy Stephenson of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club said he'd like to see a trail created to connect the Wilmington area to other snowmobile trails in the Park.

Stephenson also said snowmobilers had to give up a stretch of trail from Cooper Kiln Pond to Bonnieview Road, and he'd like to see that come back.

"That makes a connection for people," Stephenson said. "It gives them another option, so I figured I show up here and bring it up."

The DEC doesn't have a deadline for finishing the UMP process, but spokesman Dave Winchell said the sooner they gather info, the sooner the process can move forward. The next step is to create a draft UMP based on public input and submit it to the state Adirondack Park Agency.

The APA will vote on the draft, and then it will be opened to another round of public comment before a final plan is submitted to the APA for approval.

To comment on the UMP, email Guglielmi at or call 518-897-1291.



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