April 09, 2020
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‘Build it and they will come’: Bangor mountain bike group revives old trails

BANGOR, Maine — A group of Bangor-area mountain bikers have been hard at work this fall, building a single-track trail through the city’s Essex Woods with the support of Bangor Parks and Recreation. Winding through the woods over hilly terrain, this new trail was designed to be fun for mountain bikers of varying abilities — even beginners and children.

“We’re trying to entice more people to mountain bike by making the trails more fun,” said Craig MacDonald of Holden, one of the volunteers involved in building the trail.

MacDonald is a member of the Penobscot Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, which is the group leading this trail development effort in Essex Woods. Commonly known as PR NEMBA, the group plans to continue the development of single-track mountain biking trails in the city-owned forest next year.

“We’re taking baby steps, taking a lot of our direction from other chapters [of NEMBA], especially Carrabassett Valley, which has really become the mecca of mountain biking in Maine,” said MacDonald. “We’re trying to do what they’ve done on a smaller scale, locally.”

PR NEMBA chose to develop trails in Essex Woods, a 70-acre property owned and maintained by the City of Bangor, because the property includes some of the hilliest terrain in the area and has history as a mountain biking spot.

“Years ago, we had a mountain bike series up there,” said Bangor Parks and Recreation Department Director Tracy Willette. “We actually had races all through Essex Woods and a bunch of single-track trails were created.”

In recent years, the public has been using the wider, more defined trails in Essex Woods for walking, running, biking and wildlife watching — but the old single-track mountain bike trails have been essentially abandoned. Without constant use and maintenance they quickly became overgrown and have faded into the forest.

“We reached out to Bangor Parks and Rec with the idea of revitalizing the trail system.” MacDonald said.

In building the first section of single-track trail this fall, PR NEMBA volunteers were able to follow the course of one of the old trails, reclaiming the trail by clearing it and surfacing it with gravel and lyme. The volunteers also used rocks and gravel to create drainage features and berms — which are artificial ridges or embankments often built on the outside of sharp turns.

“The city was awesome,” MacDonald said. “They provided material, and we provided the labor and the knowhow.”

“What we’re doing is we’re making them user-friendly — so they flow — so kids and beginners can ride them,” MacDonald said. “We’re putting banked turns in there and basically making the trails so it controls the riders, so it’s a more enjoyable experience. The hope is to get kids to turn off their electronic devices and get turned onto mountain biking.”

“There were some kids over there ripping it up on that little section of trail the other day,” he added. “It was pretty cool.”

Over the course of three weekends in October, volunteers from PR NEMBA were able to build the new section of trail, which is 1,000 feet long and makes multiple sweeping turns as it travels down a sizable hill from one walking path to another.

“It’s not a long trail,” MacDonald said. “But now we have something tangible that we can show people, and we can say, ‘Go ahead. Ride your bike on it.’”

Next year, PR NEMBA and the City of Bangor plan to continue the trail revitalization in Essex Woods.

“They’re been a great group to work with,” said Willette. “I think it’s developed into a great rapport between this group and the city … Pretty soon we’d like to take [a plan] to [Bangor] City Council to take the work to the next level and develop a long-term plan.”

On Nov. 15, PR NEMBA member Sarah Vickers of Holden took a short ride on the new trail after a day of teaching at Fruit Street School in Bangor. Vickers, who races on her mountain bike year-round (transitioning to a fat-tire bike in the winter), has recently been involved in trying to grow PR NEMBA’s membership. She hopes the new trails in Essex Woods will draw more Bangor-area residents into the sport.

Starting at the Essex Woods parking lot at the end of Watchmaker Street, Vickers took her bike down the trail, leaving from the west side of the parking lot (the left side when you are driving into the parking lot). After a few hundred feet on that wide, smooth gravel path, Vickers found the new trail to her right. Narrow and surfaced with gravel, the trail dives immediately, switchbacking downhill.

“We don’t really have a lot of beginner trails here in Bangor,” said Sarah Vickers. “A lot of the stuff that is here [in Bangor] is pretty rugged and challenging, which isn’t a bad thing, but to grow membership we need to be able to tie in families and kids, and so we need to have a place to bring them that’s more beginner friendly.”

As clouds gathered overhead that afternoon, Vickers inspected the recent trail work, noting that the gravel along the berms was already packed down fairly well. She then took a run of the trail, starting at the top of the hill and making her way down, taking each turn with ease.

“We want families to come and check it out, to teach their kids, or for spouses to teach their spouses,” Vickers said. “That’s our hope for this.”

In addition to helping maintain and develop area trails, PR NEMBA organizes regular group rides, races, clinics and other events year-round in the Bangor area. Moving forward, the group plans to hold more beginner rides and clinics with the hope of engaging new people in the sport.

Starting two weeks ago, PR NEMBA member Emmy Monahan, 55, of Hampden, has been leading beginner bike rides each Saturday, starting at 2 p.m. and lasting for one to two hours. For each group ride, Monahan teaches a new skill. So far, she has taught participants techniques for steering their bikes and getting over small obstacles, and this Saturday, Nov. 19, she plans to teach participants how to climb and descend hills safely and efficiently in the Rolland F. Perry City Forest, commonly known as the Bangor City Forest.

“I just find it very important to show people who are new to the sport how to do it, and to actually take them along and show them some of the trails,” said Monahan, who works full-time as an attorney and mountain bikes as her primary form of exercise.

Monahan is leading the Saturday group rides and skills clinics on a volunteer basis, and she invites people of all skill levels, even though the ride is geared towards beginners. And wearing a helmet, she says, is absolutely necessary for participation.

“I’m also planning on going to Essex Street some other Saturday,” Monahan said. “And there’s also Newman Hill [in Orono]. Part of this is to showcase different trail systems in this area, and there are quite a few.”

For beginners that don’t own mountain bikes, Monahan suggests contacting a local bike shop — such as Rose Bike in Orono, Pat’s Bike Shop in Bangor and Slipping Gears Cycling in Bangor — to see if they have rental or demo mountain bikes available.

PR NEMBA is also hosting a Thanksgiving ride, open to the public, from 9 to 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 24, starting and ending at Rose Bike at 9 Pine St. in Orono.

For information about PR NEMBA events and how to become a member, visit pr.nemba.org or find the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/prnemba/. If you have questions about the group, email prnemba@gmail.com.


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