Mt. biking: A growing tourism niche
The news that $154,000 will be used this summer to improve mountain biking trails within the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area is a harbinger of lucrative things to come — ifcounty-wide resources are appropriately targeted to develop the tourism potential of this growing sport.
This specific project (see story on Page 11A) will fund improvements to a nine-mile loop that starts at the Silver Lake campground (above Lake Dunmore) and runs along that shoreline, then includes a ridgeline trail with western vistas on Chandler Ridge, as well as the lush vegetation and fascinating geology found in Leicester Hollow before circling back to Silver Lake. The camping facilities at Silver Lake campground, along with access to camping facilities and the beach at Branbury State Park, make this a particularly compelling stretch of trail that will attract mountain bikers from throughout the country as its reputation as a point-to-point trail spreads.
Other mountain biking trails, like those at Trapp’s, can be challenging and offer a good half day outing, but feature serpentine trails that come back on themselves while utilizing as compact an area as possible, similar to the experience at ski areas in which the goal is mastering the technique, rather than enjoying a scenic and challenging loop that takes you from point A to point B (a trait shared with trails out West.)
Addison County’s untapped potential, in fact, lies in its vast network of navigable trails within the National Forest Service. By hitching onto the trail system within the Moosalamoo NRA, including trails at Blueberry Hill’s ski touring center, and spreading north to include the trails at the Rikert Ski Touring Center at Bread Loaf, the system could then extend further north along the ridge of the Green Mountains into Lincoln and south through Goshen, Leicester, Forestdale and Brandon. In the long term, the area is ripe for developing a hut-to-hut system (or tying in to existing B&Bs) that could be extended into the winter season for a unique backcountry experience.
For the uninitiated, mountain biking on single-track trails is surging in popularity partly because of improvements in trail making. What began more than two decades ago as a sport that made its way over hiking trails and natural terrain — or down the steep, rocky and gully-ridden slopes at ski resorts during the summer — has transformed into a sport with more finesse and less rugged mayhem. That’s not to say the sport’s rigorous nature has been diminished, but that trail-building refinements and improvements with the bikes themselves are making the sport more accessible for the novice and intermediate riders (the Pine Hill trail system in Rutland is a prime example) — and that translates to mass appeal and a potentially meaningful tourist economy. (Chipman Hill in Middlebury could be a hub, as could Snake Mountain — both areas that locals currently cherish. Similarly, sections of the Trail Around Middlebury are ideal for mountain bikers.)
At a recent two-day conference in Stowe at Trapp Family Lodge, more than 50 fellow mountain bike enthusiasts gathered to learn how to develop the sport at their respective locales, including four people representing Addison County (including representatives from the Addison County Chamber of Commerce, Rikert Ski Touring Center, Moosalamoo NRA, and the Middlebury College Snow Bowl.) Of particular note, Vermont Tourism Commissioner Megan Smith called the development of mountain biking tourism as one of her top priorities simply because it offers the promise of hotel occupancy (and overnight stays translate to dining and shopping dollars spent as well) more than any other promotion the state could do.
Addison County’s challenge is to tap into this opportunity early on, and develop our potential as one of Vermont’s premier mountain biking venues, along with those already more fully developed in the Stowe area and at Kingdom Trails near Burke.
By partnering with the Better Middlebury Partnership, the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Middlebury College, Moosalamoo NRA, Vermont Mountain Bike Association and the National Forest Service, the Addison County Chamber of Commerce could be the coordinating force locally behind a multi-year endeavor that could pay lasting dividends. It’s a needed role and would promote Addison County’s unique wilderness assets in ways that have been overlooked for far too long.