By Maura Adams

Riding my bike along exposed rock ledges just outside a bustling downtown that’s gained a national reputation as a mountain biking destination, I found myself wondering: can we make this happen in the Northern Forest? The answer, I believe, is yes – but it’ll take time, money, and sustained momentum by organizations committed to mountain biking and community development.

bella springs AR rideI was in Bentonville, Arkansas, last week for Trail Labs, a workshop held by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) intended to teach attendees “what it takes to create a model trail community and return home with the knowledge and guidance for how to make it happen.” Several other New Englanders, including two of our MTB Collaborative partners, attended as well.

Trail Labs affirmed what we already suspected about mountain biking: evidence from around the country shows that it helps attract and retain young people in communities, brings significant economic benefits, and gets local people outside and active. We’re on the right track!

We also learned more about the role that planning and quality play in establishing durable mountain bike communities. People won’t have positive experiences if the trails aren’t conducive to progressing as a rider, if maps or signage are inaccurate, if trails aren’t built to last, and so on. Our group has already been attentive to this: we’ve established standards for being included in the public promotion we’re launching next spring, and have provided mini-grants to each network to help them meet those standards. Trail Labs pushed me to think about strengthening those standards further: it might take longer for each member network to meet them, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Of course, mountain bike trails alone won’t revitalize communities. To become a thriving trail community you also need amenities that everyone – riders and others – will benefit from: breweries and coffee shops, arts initiatives, quality housing, and of course good job opportunities. For success, mountain bike organizations should get involved in other community activities, not focus solely on trail design and construction. They need to bring chambers of commerce, tourism promoters, and local government into the fold to ensure widespread support and perhaps gain access to more resources than if they’re working in isolation.

It was quite a privilege to be immersed in mountain bike conversations and experience for several days with Northern Forest partners from Kingdom Trails, Coos Cycling Club, Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Katahdin Area Trails, and Elliotsville Plantation. Our shared experience in Arkansas is going to make all our mountain biking work – individually and as a region – stronger. Working together, we’ll gradually bring more good riding – and the good beer, good coffee, and new faces that come with it – to our own very special part of the country!