Courtesy of Sarah Galbraith, Ambassador to Vermont Mountain Bike Association. Photos courtesy of the VMBA.
When most folks think of Vermont they might think of maple syrup and skiing, but the Green Mountain State has seen an explosion in mountain biking in recent years. The Vermont Mountain Bike Association is leading the charge thanks to a new partnership with the state’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. The agreement includes a 10-year expansion plan to build more trails and for the first time looks to plan by activity rather than by parcel, a big shift for state land officials in Vermont.
Riders can look for summer and winter mountain bike trails popping up in Waterbury, Killington, Waitsfield, Marshfield, and Underhill in the next few years, adding to the hundreds of miles already available. Vermont has seen a boom in development of flow trails recently, for example. Riders can be found lapping Kitchel at Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Norwich University Trails in Northfield, and Blueberry Lake and Revolution in the Mad River Valley; and there’s more flow on the way.
But it wasn’t long ago that mountain biking in Vermont suffered from a poor image and limited access. Until recently, many of the favorite trails were rogue, mountain biking was excluded from Vermont’s National forests, and ski areas considered gravel access roads to be good riding.
Now thanks to coordinated efforts, National Forest land like Moosalamoo National Recreation Area in Goshen and Blueberry Lake in Warren are laced with miles of singletrack, and ski areas like Sugarbush, Burke Mountain, Killington, and Trapp Family Lodge have added robust summer operations, with more in the works.
A key element of Vermont’s success has been the visionary thinking of local mountain bike clubs, formed around their community’s interest in hitting the trails on two wheels and their willingness to put in some amazing volunteer time to build and maintain trails. “Chapters are the heart and soul of the association” says Tom Stuessy, Vermont Mountain Bike Association’s (VMBA) executive director.
VMBA proved to be a key ingredient in the 1990s. Made up of local mountain bike chapters, like Brewster River Riders and the Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association, VMBA served as a central point of contact at the state level and provided an opportunity for chapters to have consistent representation. As trails were legalized and more were built, VMBA was designated official trail corridor manager by the state, which has become an avenue for chapters to build more trails.
VMBA’s first Executive Director, Patrick Kell, helped to move mountain biking from a well-kept secret to a touted asset with public access. He broke ground on public land that had previously excluded mountain biking, introduced ski areas to experts like Gravity Logic, and brought riders together to bring a sense of camaraderie to a formerly disconnected group. This was a turning point in advocacy.
Now, Tom Stuessy is at the helm. Over the past two years, Stuessy has developed new opportunities for both chapters and riders. VMBA has also recently built in new mechanisms for state relationships, sponsors and partners—and the response has been great. VMBA chapters are now a part of a unified statewide consortium and all take advantage of a full suite of administrative benefits including insurance, nonprofits status, trail building clinics, online membership enrollment and the VMBA Trail Grant to support trails.
“We want them to plug in and get going doing what they do best, building trails and hosting amazing events in their communities” Stuessy said. The association’s membership package for riders is impressive, which includes over 80 deals for bike shops, ski resorts, pubs, lodging and restaurants.
It’s Stuessy’s efforts that are laying the groundwork for many more miles of singletrack. “We’re very lucky to have the private, state and federal land managers that we do in Vermont. They’ve continued to be an active partner as our future evolves. As the association’s relationship matures with chapters and land mangers, all types of trail development are fair game. The key element is participation from the riders. VMBA is eager to get more riders engaged in the future of riding in Vermont,” he said.
Riders can support the development of trails by joining VMBA and affiliating with an organization that is dedicated to more trails and better trails in Vermont.
If you love to ride, you owe it to yourself to plan a trip to Vermont. Summer is the best time, but the winter mountain biking options are expanding as well.
If you want to get in on the action, Vermonters and out-of-staters alike are invited to the annual Vermont Mountain Bike Festival to be held July 31-August 1, 2015 at Ascutney Mountain. With 75 miles of trail, guided rides, demos, games, food, camping and more, it’s a great time and important way to build community and support our trails.