Poised to leave BETA, director Josh Wilson reflects on 8-year tenure
After eight years of blazing trails with the Bark Eater Trails Alliance, Josh Wilson has decided to leave his role as executive director of the nonprofit he’s been with since its founding years.
Wilson, 42, has been a part of BETA since its beginnings as a grassroots volunteer organization in 2009. During his time as the alliance’s first full-time, year-round executive director — a position he’s held since 2015, just after BETA joined forces with the Adirondack Ski Touring Council — he said BETA has developed around 25 miles of new multi-use trails, tripled its membership and onboarded paid trail crew workers. Now, Wilson is planning to leave BETA behind to be with his family in Virginia.
Wilson plans to stay with BETA until the end of the trail season — late October to early November — but that depends on how quickly the alliance can find a new executive director, he said. He hasn’t found a new job yet.
Wilson said leaving BETA in a “good place” is his top priority as he prepares to leave the organization — hence the three-season resignation notice. The hiring process is expected to begin in a few weeks, and Wilson hopes BETA’s board of directors can find someone new by this summer.
Wilson has been with BETA since it was founded in 2009 by volunteers who shared a love of mountain biking. At the time, there were only a few scattered mountain biking trails in the area, Wilson said. While BETA has established a number of complex trail networks for all skill levels through partnerships and careful planning over the years, Wilson said BETA started with that group of volunteers who simply asked, “where can we build trails right now?”
Most of BETA’s work originated in the Wilmington Wild Forest after the state in 2009 approved a unit management plan for the forest, allowing for more trails to be built there. BETA was inspired by Adirondack Ski Touring Council’s work in developing the Jackrabbit ski trail, and the alliance formed as a committee under the ASTC.
Then came BETA’s merger with the ASTC in 2014. When the two groups first joined forces, Wilson said there was a lot of skepticism since the organizations seemingly had two different user groups — the ski touring council largely focused on skiing trails with the Jackrabbit and BETA primarily focused on mountain biking trails. Wilson said proving that the partnership could not only work, but that it could thrive, is one of his most notable achievements as BETA’s executive director.
Even though the organizations promoted different forms of recreation, the nonprofits banded together with the same mission of connecting local communities through trail networks like the Jackrabbit, which runs from Saranac Lake to Keene.
But for Wilson, BETA is also about connecting communities with their trail networks — giving locals the luxury of having a trailhead near their front door.
“Connecting communities and trail systems is one part of it, but when we think community-based trails, it’s also so you don’t have to drive 10 miles to a trailhead,” Wilson told the Enterprise in 2015. “You can leave your house or your hotel room on your bike or on your skis, or walk out the door and be at a trail in five minutes without having to get in a car.”
On Monday, Wilson told the Enterprise that this goal has motivated his work with BETA over the last eight years.
Wilson estimated that around 25 miles of new multi-use trails came to fruition under his guidance. That includes several new single-track mountain biking networks in BETA’s core towns of Wilmington, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, like the ever-growing trail network at Craig Wood Golf Course in Lake Placid, the trails at Dewey Mountain and Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake, and the expansion of trails in the Wilmington Wild Forest at Hardy Road, the Flume, and Wilmington’s Three Sisters Preserve. BETA also has a blooming partnership with Elizabethtown, where the alliance is developing the Cobble Hill Trails, as well as with the town of Keene, where the first leg of the developing East Branch Community Trail opened this past September.
That’s just a few of BETA’s trail projects.
“It’s an exhaustive list,” Wilson laughed.
BETA membership has more than tripled since Wilson took the helm. When BETA and the ASTC joined forces in 2015, Wilson said there were around 300 members. Now, BETA has more than 1,000 members. Members are key to BETA’s success because they financially support the organization’s trailwork and engage with the organization’s mission of trail stewardship, according to Wilson.
Also under Wilson’s lead, BETA in 2017 moved from relying on volunteer trail builders to hiring a paid trail crew. That was a big shift for BETA, Wilson said — even though the alliance still relies heavily on volunteers, having a dedicated trail crew has allowed BETA to take on bigger projects.
Wilson said the decision to leave BETA weighed heavily on him. A “5th generation Adirondacker,” he was born in Cadyville, earned his degree in natural resources management and policy from Paul Smith’s College, and spent most of his life riding mountain biking trails across the Adirondacks. BETA has been a job he believes in.
“This is way more than a job to me,” he said. “It’s basically a way of life.”
But Wilson also believes that he’s leaving BETA in a “strong” place. Years of community support have driven growth among BETA’s board of directors and staff, he said, who are now able to take on a broader scope of projects and form local partnerships to better carry out BETA’s mission of trail building and stewardship for the region.
Even though leaving BETA is “bittersweet” for Wilson, he said there are plenty of mountain biking trails waiting for him in Virginia. “I’m going to miss the BETA trails, but I will not miss out on mountain biking,” he said.