DEC, local officials credit BETA with rapid expansion of mountain biking
Some of the major proposals in the state’s ambitious plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest would likely not have been included if not for a local group that has shown the ability to build and maintain mountain bike trails that draw visitors in from all over North America.
Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA) in recent years has expanded its work, both labor and lobbying, to create numerous mountain bike trails, largely in the Wilmington area. It also merged with the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, the group responsible for building and maintaining the fabled Jackrabbit Trail, and now manages ski trails as well.
In the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s unit management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, released last week, the department proposes nearly 40 miles of new mountain bike trails, in and around all three Tri-Lakes communities. DEC spokesman David Winchell said they were able to call for so much biking specifically “because of BETA’s commitment and abilities.”
Wilmington was the group’s proving ground.
“In recent years the Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA) has taken a lead on advocating for more bike trails and proposing the location of trails and trail systems for bikes,” Winchell wrote in an email. “BETA volunteers, working with DEC, the Adirondack Mountain Club Professional Trail Crew, Student Conservation Association Adirondack Program crews, and Town of Wilmington crews, demonstrated their capabilities for constructing trails in the Wilmington Wild Forest.”
DEC also plans to use Adirondack Mountain Club, SCA, BETA and municipal crews, as well as volunteers, to build and maintain the proposed bike trails in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. Winchell noted that people expressed support for such trails in the original public comments on the Saranac Lakes forest unit.
The Saranac Lakes UMP has been a long time coming, with the DEC hosting a public comment period back in 2002. Since then, biking has exploded in the Wilmington area, which includes opportunities on state, town and private land, as well as at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center.
Randy Preston, the Wilmington town supervisor, echoed DEC’s statement about BETA’s abilities.
“BETA has been outstanding to work with — donating hundreds upon hundreds of hours each year. Also DEC has been outstanding with their cooperation of getting the newly approved trails finished,” Preston wrote in an email. “You cannot drive by the trailhead for the Flume Trails or the Beaver Brook (Hardy Road) Trails any time of the year and not have people enjoying themselves. It has brought very positive economics to (Wilmington).”
Preston, while noting that he considers Wilmington the mountain bike capital of the Adirondacks, does not see a threat from the expansion of mountain biking opportunities closer to the Tri-Lakes villages.
“Well, Wilmington is where it all started, and I see no downside to giving more options to our region and having people stay longer,” he said. “The advantage Wilmington has is our soils. We are the first to ride in the spring, and the last in the fall.”
Josh Wilson, executive director of BETA, said his group sees mountain biking trails as a regional opportunity.
“This is what we see as the last big piece of the pie for the three towns,” he said. “BETA has always considered this a regional destination. Even if you’ve built tons more trails in any of the towns, it works better if all of them are presented together. So you get the type of mileage that will attract people to come and return over and over again to ride.
“We’ve always said Wilmington is a model for other wild forest units and for other communities that want to do mountain biking on state land, and so we think this is a reflection (of that). We’ve shown that it works in Wilmington and that it can keep improving and that now we can apply the same model to Saranac Lakes Wild Forest.”
Wild forest is a classification of state land that allows more types of human recreation, including motorized, such as snowmobiles or motorboats, and mechanized, such as bikes. Those things aren’t allowed under the more restrictive wilderness, primitive and canoe classifications.
In other recently released plans, the DEC also included mountain bike trails for state land parcels near Long Lake and in the southern Adirondacks. Wilson thinks the expansion of trails is a response to mountain bikers, who were not necessarily being represented in state land plans until somewhat recently.
The Saranac Lakes UMP calls for volunteers to do trail maintenance, something BETA is already engaged in on a regular basis. In fact, the group has its first paid trail crew this year, and Wilson said he hopes that effort continues into the future.
“I sort of feel like we’ve proven that we’re capable of taking on the stewardship of the trails in Wilmington,” he said. “We’re already maintaining dozens of miles in Lake Placid on private and town land. … I think they recognize that we can do the work and will continue to do it.”
Wilson added that BETA already maintains more than 50 miles of trails in the Tri-Lakes, including construction of about 20 miles of new trails and rehabilitating another 20 miles or so.
“With the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, I would say if there was a theme of the plan for mountain biking, the big thing is that it will more or less connect Saranac Lake and Lake Placid with a trail.
“The other big part, what’s kind of important to us, is to be able to round out and improve the existing networks that are on these sort of small parcels of land in the wild forest.”
Wilson said when BETA leaders first saw the plan, they were thrilled.
“We’re just psyched that a lot of what BETA has been advocating for the past six or seven years now is included, that our recommendations were taken seriously and reflected in the plan,” he said. “So a lot of what’s here is something that we first proposed in 2010, and we’ve just kind of been waiting for the UMP process to unfold.”
Wilson added that BETA plans to submit comments on the plan, but he reiterated that it’s nothing short of pleasing to the group’s members.
“For the most part we think it’s really good,” he said. “We’ve waited a long time for this.”
Chance to weigh in
The DEC will hold two kinds of public sessions on the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest Unit Management Plan in July: public availability sessions, where DEC staff will be on hand to give presentations and answer questions, and public meetings, where people can offer verbal or written comments. People can also submit comments in writing by Aug. 11.
Wednesday, July 12, Saranac Lake:
• Public availability session, 1 to 4 p.m., Harrietstown Town Hall auditorium, 39 Main St.
• Public meeting, 6 p.m., Saranac Lake High School auditorium
Thursday, July 13, Tupper Lake:
• Public availability session, 1 to 4 p.m., Goff-Nelson Memorial Library, 41 Lake St.
• Public meeting, 6:30 p.m. Wild Center’s Flammer Theater, 45 Museum Drive
More info: www.dec.ny.gov/lands/22593.html