June 2019 - MOUNTAIN BIKING
banner photo: New flow trails at McCauley Mountain in Old Forge. Eli Glesmann
Go with the Flow
By Mike Feldman
I’ve heard it again. “Don’t dumb down the trails.” And I’ve heard these statements as well: “The challenge is part of the experience,” and not very helpful, “Learn someplace else.” What is it that I’m referring to? Mountain Bike Trails. This is a debate that is as old as the sport.
It used to be, and still is, that if a tree falls across any trail there is supposed to be a council meeting of tribal leaders convened to determine if the tree should remain in play or should branches and sticks be placed to assist lifting the wheels over the log. Even before social media, if someone were to cut the tree out to clear the path, chest thumping and foot stomping would commence, and communicate extreme displeasure. Of course, if said tree crossing was beyond the abilities of the local “expert,” well then of course it had to be removed. And if the benchmark is the expert rider, well there are going to be some frustrations for a lot of other riders.
The new “tree across the trail” is the flow trail – Old “technical” trails had a way of weeding out riders. Steep lung burning climbs up the fall line, and brake-burning descents down, led to erosion and trail creep. Corners that were too sharp or off camber interrupted the pace. This could all be a deterrent to building the sport. But there were some trails that followed the natural contours of the land. The more they were ridden, the more the corners got worn in and the risers gave some lift, air and momentum. They were “flowy.” Riders gravitated to these trails. You could bring developing riders, girlfriends or boyfriends, spouses and the kids. Soon the term “flow trail” began populating the dirt rider’s language.
Pretty soon trails started popping up like “Florence” at Cady Hill in Stowe, Vt., “E-20” and “Tango” at Gurney Lane Mountain Bike Park in Queensbury, “Quaker Mountain Trail” at BETA in Wilmington, and “Kitchel” at Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vt. Kingdom Trails Association witnessed the popularity of their flow trails, and when a local landowner up the road in East Haven, Vt. offered his property for development, the trail crew built more flow trails and one of the longest in the Northeast, “Seven Minute Abs” (aka Black Bear) that descends 724 feet over two miles. These trails are flow purpose built, some machine built, and add considerable attraction to their respective areas. These trails are built with banked turns called berms, rolling jumps and table tops, long sight lines, and a fairly smooth and consistent surface. All this adds up to a predictable riding experience that can be enjoyed over a wide margin of skill levels.
There are not a lot of purpose-built flow trails in the Adirondacks – I think I’ve listed them already. A few though, are in the works. Word on the trail is that The Hub is planning a flow trail to complement their trail system on Bartonville Mountain in Brant Lake. Back in 2013, NYS DEC contracted International Mountain Bicycling Association to provide a concept plan for mountain bike trails in the Moose River Plains, near Inlet. Their comprehensive plan would include two gravity, aka flow trails, off Seventh Mountain. One would be classified as beginner and the other intermediate, both 2.5 miles long (dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/mrpwfbike.pdf).
In 2017, the Moose River Plains Wild Forest Unit Management Plan was approved to include mountain bike trails. This includes new trail building in the Inlet and Eighth Lake area (dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/mrpwfamend.pdf).
The Birth of a New 501(c) (3) – The scarcity of flow trails came to the attention of some local riders in 2018. The nexus was at an impromptu meeting of some Central New York riders, one with ties to the Old Forge area. Chuck Schweitzer has been carving out mountain bike trails around the McCauley Mountain area for years. Kelly Ann Nugent showed up with a spreadsheet of mountain bike trails in the Adirondack Park. She noted a distinct lack of dedicated mountain bike flow trails. Together with Matt Van Slyke, executive director of Utica Bike Rescue, they got to work brainstorming a solution to the lack of flow in the Adirondacks. And the Adirondack Foothills Trail Alliance was born.
Building trails in the Adirondacks is not easy. Building sustainable flow trails is a long labor-intensive process. Doing it quickly and right is expensive. AFTA did not waste time. Chuck presented AFTA’s vision for trail development at McCauley Mountain to the Central Adirondack Association and was awarded a grant to get things started. Fortunately, they had an ace trail builder up their sleeve, Eli Glesmann.
I first met Eli at Oak Mountain in Speculator, when he was designing and building mountain bike downhill trails at the ski area. While downhill mountain biking never took hold at Oak Mountain the trails are still there, and as a testament to Eli’s design there is no erosion of his trails. Soon after that, Eli left the Adirondacks for dirtier pastures, and to hone his trail building skills with heavy machinery. For the past two years, Eli has been working for Rock Solid Trail Contracting in Bentonville, Ark.
In 2018, he worked with AFTA to machine build the first flow trails at McCauley Mountain. And while the professional credit goes to Eli, he didn’t get the job done alone. As with many pro built trails, there is a significant volunteer component. Chuck, Kelly Ann and Matt knew this from the onset of AFTA, and they drew in 900 hours of volunteer labor under Eli’s direction to get the trails built. In October 2018, the new trails were presented to the public at a grand opening with Mountainman Outdoors and Growler Bikes present. Over 200 people showed up to experience the riding. Add “Toga Party,” a black diamond, and “Food Fight,” a blue square, to the list of purpose-built Adirondack Flow trails. Both can be found on the Trailforks App.
2019 – The new trails have proven to be an outstanding success. So much so, that over the winter Chuck was able to garner more financial support from CAA, as well as the town of Webb and Herkimer County Tourism. AFTA has created a development schedule for 2019, in order of priority.
Phase 1 proposal is to machine-build two climbing trails on Maple Ridge. One from Old Forge to the water tower, and the other from the cross country trails up to the water tower. This will provide access to McCauley mountain trails from town.
Phase 2 is proposed to build a flow trail from the top of Maple Ridge back to Old Forge. Included in the proposal are signage and maps.
Phase 3 is a skills park and pump track within or near the village. The exact location is yet to be determined but ideally would be close to the Tobie Trail, a 22-mile multiuse path that runs between Thendara and Eagle Bay.
AFTA is actively involved in Central New York mountain bike trail development, bringing together many local bike groups and stakeholders to advocate for trails, improve existing trails, and pool resources to build new trails. There is no charge to ride these trails. Donations are very much appreciated and once their 501 (c) (3) is finalized they are tax deductible. Membership is open to the public and even if you don’t have the time to volunteer, your membership fee goes toward providing sustainable trail building, stewardship, youth development and fun.
Mike Feldman (beerjerseyrider.blogspot.com) of Benson will represent the Beer Jersey Riders in The Adirondack Trail Ride 2019.