Waterville Valley, NH --In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene swept through parts of New Hampshire and Vermont caring about little what stood in its way. At the time, three years ago, there wasnt much to do but stare at the damage and wonder where to begin cleaning up. What good could possibly come from such destruction?
For one group, though in a sort of roundabout way the storm provided a silver lining that, a couple years later, is being realized. Today, the mountain bike community in Waterville Valley and the surrounding area is discovering its size and strength. Its numbers are strong and growing. The least surprised by that? The mountain bike community itself. And, as the community grows, so does the Waterville Valley trail system.
Waterville Valley sits much like an island, surrounded on all side by over 700,000 acres of the White Mountain National Forest. Riding from an inn or lodge into the forest is easier than anywhere else in the North Country. And as a valley, there are all kinds of trails to take on. Getting into the mountains from the valley floor is easy, thanks to a chairlift up Snows Mountain.
Nordic ski trails, logging roads, fire roads, and hiking trails wind throughout Waterville Valley to create more than 30 miles of mountain bike trails that read like the Boston MBTA map. Now, with a little help from Irene, add singletrack trails to that map.
For those not down with the mountain bike lingo, singletrack is just that; a trail wide enough for a single bike with a focus on weaving through trees, using natural terrain (stumps, roots, rocks) as obstacles, and creating a much more technical form of riding. At the same time, these trails call upon the riders creativity to maneuver around said obstacles.
According to Mike Furgal, treasurer of the Waterville Valley Foundation (a group dedicated to helping keep Waterville Valley unique and special), the 2011 tropical storm destroyed or damaged a significant amount of the bike trails. The Greeley Ponds Trail, which connects the Valley to the Kancamagus Highway, was one of them. In an effort to restore the trail, the WVF began a fundraising campaign. Twenty thousand dollars later, and the damaged trail is in the revitalization process. Another benefit of the WVF campaign is that the mountain biking community became fully self-aware.
We came back and said, Wow, people have an interest in doing large projects like this, Furgal said of the community effort to restore the trail. Why dont we see what kind of interest there might be to do something else, like adding singletrack trails.
Surrounding trail systems had made similar plans work in the past, so Furgal and others presented a plan to the National Forest Foundation to build in some new trails on the existing system. Being met not with resistance but rather paper work and hoops to jump through to build on National Forest land, the group determined that it might be best to start building on private land.
The Waterville Company, master developer of Waterville Valley resort, stepped up to the plate and provided the land for the project. Once that was in place, the plan took off.
There was just a tsunami of events, Bill Cantlin of the Waterville Company said. But once the process was established it was remarkable to see the biking community come together to work on these trails.
A group of mountain bikers out of the Plymouth, NH area decided to form a chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. Looking for a project to prove to the Forest Service that they could build sustainable trails, the group volunteered their time to help Furgal and Cantlin build the trails on Waterville Company's land.
We were expecting just a couple of guys to show up when we began working on the trails, Furgal said. We had 16 guys show up one night, which was overwhelming, but just shows what kind of support was out there.
It wasnt long until there were two well crafted, singletrack trails, which are now easily accessed by the existing Waterville Valley trail system - a system that previously boasted quality biking at the extremes. There was little variety between the novice/beginner trails and their trails that could star in a Red Bull advertisement. With the addition of these new singletrack trails, which Cantlin and Furgal described as intermediate, Waterville Valley now has not only that middle ground in terms of terrain, but also a foundation from which to grow.
Despite currently only having just the couple of new trails, Will Ritchie, Manager at the Adventure Center in Waterville Valley's Town Square, sees that they offer much more than might meet the eye.
No one trail is ridden the same way twice, said Ritchie. Depending on how you take the angle for each turn or how aggressively you want to take the trail or how fast you want to take it, singletrack is great because its always different. It allows you the opportunity to challenge yourself.
These new trails are not currently labeled on the official trail map, but according to Ritchie and Furgal theyre easy to find (just off of Mikes Dream). If youre renting a bike or interested in learning about the trails, the folks at the Adventure Center will gladly point out on a map where they are for you.
If youre concerned about the quality of the new trails, the way Ritchie sees it, theres nothing to worry about. Having little in the way of official singletrack trails in the area, local bikers, such as those that came together to build these new trails, have had to depend on their own ingenuity to build trails if they wanted anything to ride.
These trails were built by people who have been doing it informally for quite some time, Ritchie said. Theyre experienced trail builders. They know what theyre doing.
These trail builders could also be key to moving forward as Furgal, Cantlin and Ritchie all hope and look forward to singletrack expansion. Having constructed in the past, these builders know the rules and regulations when it comes to crossing wetlands and chopping down brush and trees. And building in the National Forest will certainly come with its share of rules and regulations.
According to Furgal and Cantlin, because of the uncertainty and lengthy process of being able to cut trails through National Forest, the immediate plan will be to work with private land owners that have property that abuts existing trails, much in the same way the first two trails were built on the Waterville Companys property. In the meantime, work can begin with the U.S. Forest Service to one day have these plans realized.
Right now, we see these existing trails as a launch pad for the next five to 10 years down the road, Furgal said.
And why should they not be? With somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 bike rentals a summer out of Ritchies shop alone, the sport and area has an audience with a wealth of interest.
And much like Irene, when communities, such as the bike community of the Waterville Valley area, have a like interest, there is little that can stop it. Learn more at www.visitwatervillevalley.com