Passionate Belfast mountain bikers build new network of trails in the city
BELFAST, Maine – Mountain bikers looking for rugged and wooded terrain have a new option in Belfast, where a new trail system has opened on City Point Road.
The El Depot Mountain Bike Park Trail is located on municipally owned land that served as a public ski resort also known as El Depot about 50 years ago. The rolling 1.2 mile loop through the woods features raised hairpin turns and is meant to be accessible to many.
“The idea is that anyone can go out and do tricks on it. Even if someone feels challenged by their first ride, you can still go out and do it, ”said Chris Gardner, who led the creation of El Depot this week. “One of my favorite things about the sport is that more and more people are now coming to it as adults. You get the satisfaction of learning a new thing and gaining confidence in a new skill.
Although Gardner started dreaming of a local mountain bike trail a few years ago, the pandemic made it urgent.
“I think there is a lot of demand to create things closer to home,” he said. “If you look across the state you’ll find a lot of projects similar to what we do. Many of them are grassroots.
For him, the impetus came when he took his then 9-year-old daughter for a bike ride to Thomaston, where the midcoast chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association had built a trail on city-owned land. . The nonprofit advocacy group aims to preserve open spaces by creating trails and promoting mountain biking. The Thomaston Trail was an inspiration, Gardner said.
“The condition of the trail was unlike anything in the area,” he said. “It was beginner friendly,” he said. “I thought it would be nice to have something like this near my house.”
After that he joined the Belfast Pedestrian, Cycling and Hiking Committee, where he gained support for the idea and researched land owned by the city. He kept coming back to the Four Seasons recreation area, where the ski area was. The steep 19-acre plot had trees, lots of boulders, and a stream running diagonally through the center of the property. There was an existing hiking trail but there wasn’t a lot of traffic, Gardner said.
“The existing hiking trail went up and down pretty much straight down the steep parts,” he said. “For mountain biking, it wasn’t going to work. Even for the hike it was difficult.
But he 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, Belfast City Council voted unanimously to allow the use, and work on the trails began this spring.
“It was a lot of work,” Gardner said. “We had to make a lot of big cuts in the hill and we had to manually dig several yards into the side of the hill and then level the path. ”
Many volunteers, including a group of high school students from the Ecological Learning Center at Unity, spent many sweaty hours in the spring and summer moving rocks, carving berms, and raking the ground in the network. trails.
Gardner hopes the trails are the start of a larger network. He dreams that one day it will be possible to connect El Depot with other conserved lands nearby, including the Coastal Mountains Land Trust’s Tidal Reserve and Stover Preserve. That would mean the potential for up to 10 miles of mountain bike trails, he said.
“I think it will take a few years to get there, and a lot of good cooperation and conversations with the neighbors,” he said.
For the mountain biker, who is working to create a chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association in the Belfast area, El Depot is just the start.
“This year it was amazing to launch this project,” he said. “We know there is still a long way to go.”
For more information contact Chris Gardner at [email protected]