One of Ms. Long’s first moves as executive director, even before the landowners pulled out, was to apply for a United States Department of Agriculture-funded capacity study, to try to identify the worst pain points. The study found that the trails were at 80 percent capacity, but that the surrounding infrastructure, like parking lots, bathrooms and connecting roads were at 120 percent capacity. The association built new parking lots, and trail linkages to keep riders off the roads. They started a shuttle service from the town of East Burke to the most popular trails. Through a trails committee, which Mr. Manges is part of, they reached out to landowners in a wider radius, and started to build trails in surrounding towns like East Haven, which now has its own local craft brewery, Dirt Church.
The association also tried to put the onus of responsibility onto the visiting riders, a hard thing to do in a vacation town, where people may stay for only a weekend. Ms. Long said that after the trail closures, Kingdom Trails immediately shifted all its marketing efforts into education. It adopted a maxim from a nearby trail network, “Ride with Gratitude,” to encourage good behavior, and remind visitors that it’s a rare privilege to ride on pristine private land — one they shouldn’t screw up. Now, in addition to trail marker signs, there are also signs to ride single file, and respect landowners.
Now, the border with Canada is open again and the whole town feels like it’s waiting to see what the summer bike season will bring. On a trail called Sidewinder, Mr. Manges and Tiaan van der Linde, another local teacher and biker, talk about issues like the increased traffic they’ll have to contend with and how the trails association might have more positive impact on the community. They want more affordable housing; ways to train local kids for jobs that will keep them around; trails that wind out to towns like West Burke, spreading the wealth.
They know that you don’t just get beautiful trails with no one on them or an influx of tourist dollars without crowds. And, like riding a bike, you have to make a million micro-movements to keep yourself on track for the long term. “We’re trying to plan for what we want instead of reacting to what’s happening to us, but you can’t predict the future,” Mr. van der Linde said.
He points his bike back toward the trailhead and we swoop around the Burkelyn trail, green fields rolling out under us into the distance as we gather speed, riding with gratitude.
Heather Hansman is the author of the recent book “Powder Days” and a contributing editor at Outside magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @hhansman.