BELFAST, Maine — Mountain bikers seeking rugged, forested terrain have a new option in Belfast where a new trail system has opened off City Point Road.
The trail at the El Depot Mountain Bike Park is located on municipally-owned land that served as a public ski hill also called El Depot around 50 years ago. The hilly, 1.2 mile loop through the woods includes banked hairpin turns, and is intended to be accessible to many.
“The idea is that anyone can get out there and ride laps on it. Even if someone feels challenged by their first lap, you can still get out and do it,” Chris Gardner, who spearheaded the creation of El Depot, said this week. “One of my favorite things about the sport is that more people now are coming to it as adults. You get the satisfaction of learning a new thing and gaining confidence in a new skill.”
Although Gardner first began dreaming of a local mountain bike trail a couple of years ago, the pandemic lent it urgency.
“I think there’s a lot of demand for creating stuff closer to home,” he said. “If you look across the state, you’ll find a lot of projects similar to what we’re doing. A lot of them are grassroots.”
For him, the impetus came about when he took his daughter, then 9 years old, to ride in Thomaston, where the midcoast chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association had built a trail on town-owned land. The nonprofit advocacy group has a goal of preserving open spaces by creating trails and promoting mountain biking. The Thomaston trail was an inspiration, Gardner said.
“The trail condition was unlike anything that existed in the area,” he said. “It was beginner friendly,” he said. “I thought, it would be nice to have something like this close to home.”
After that, he joined Belfast’s Pedestrian, Biking & Hiking Committee, where he gained support for the idea, and scouted out city-owned land. He kept returning to the Four Season Recreation Area, where the ski area used to be. The steep, 19-acre parcel featured trees, lots of rocks and a stream that cuts diagonally through the center of the property. There was an existing hiking trail but it wasn’t heavily trafficked, Gardner said.
“The existing hiking trail pretty much went straight up and down the steep parts,” he said. “For mountain biking, that wasn’t going to work. Even for hiking, it was tough.”
But it had possibilities. Gardner worked with Camden-based Coastal Mountains Land Trust, which had an agreement with the city to maintain the hiking trail, to expand the agreement to include mountain biking and a reconfiguration of the trail. Last fall, the Belfast City Council unanimously voted to allow the use, and trail work began this spring.
“It was a lot of work,” Gardner said. “We had to do a lot of big cuts into the hill and had to manually chip away several feet into the hillside, then smooth out the path.”
Lots of volunteers, including a group of high school students from the Ecology Learning Center in Unity, spent many sweaty hours over the spring and summer moving rocks, sculpting berms and raking the ground smooth at the trail system.
Gardner hopes that the trails are the beginning of a larger network. He dreams that one day, it will be possible to connect El Depot with other nearby conserved land, including the Coastal Mountains Land Trust’s Head of Tide Preserve and Stover Preserve. That would mean the potential for as much as 10 miles of mountain biking trails, he said.
“I think it’ll take a couple of years to get there, and a lot of good cooperation and conversations with neighbors,” he said.
For the mountain biking enthusiast, who is working on creating a Belfast-area chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, El Depot is just the beginning.
“This year, it was amazing to get this project started,” he said. “We know there’s a lot more to go.”
For more information, contact Chris Gardner at email@example.com