Joining biking trails and bringing money to New England

Looking to give an economic boost to rural parts of New England, one group is turning to mountain bikers for help.

The new initiative called the Borderlands covers 250 miles of trails in seven areas of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, and also takes riders to Quebec. The seven bike organizations behind the trails say mountain bikers will get to see a diverse picture of New England, passing through forests and berms, over bridges, through idyllic villages, and past a few craft breweries. The trails in Quebec take riders through 14,000 acres of conserved land and are a short drive to Montreal.

“We all share the goal of preserving our cultural landscape and yet invigorating our local economy and a healthy active outdoor lifestyle and instilling these values in our future generations,” Christopher Nicodemus, who represents the Franconia Area chapter of New England Mountain Bike Association in the Borderlands, said in a statement.

The 30 miles of trail in Franconia include challenging mountain slopes near the White Mountains, as well as scenic valley terrain.

The initiative, which features seven distinct trail networks, debuted in March with an event hosted by Kingdom Trials in East Burke, Vermont. But organizers said many riders are just now taking to the trials because of the wet spring. Some trails, they said, were still off limits because of the soggy conditions.

“We’re super stoked and excited about it,” Jim Tasse, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and an avid mountain bike rider. “It’s a great demonstration of using the bike community to stimulate economic development.”

In Maine, the Bethel area is coming online as a legitimate riding destination. Some of the trail is new; some is already established. They are considered cross country trails and are open to riders of all levels — not just hard core thrill seekers, Tasse said.

Maura Adams, program director at Northern Forest Center in Concord, which helped facilitate the initiative, said the goal is to show riders that rural parts of these states have more to offer than they might imagine. As a result, that could provide an economic boost to the region and attract more young people to the area.

“It’s presenting these rural communities in a different light,” she said. “There are a lot of assumptions about the North Country being older and there not being a lot to do. We wanted people to know there is great mountain biking here, as well as great brew pubs, cafes, shops and lodging.”

Supporters see a growing market. An Outdoor Industry Association study in 2017 found that cyclists spent $83 billion a year on bicycling trips. Cyclists spent even more than that — $97 million — on retail spending for bikes, gear and clothing, the study found.

Kingdom Trails’ Lillias Ide said her organization, which gets more than 40% of its membership from Canadians, was happy to collaborate with the Borderlands. The well-established Kingdom Trails has lessons that can help some of the other, newer, trail networks, she said.

“We figure that by working together with everyone, a collaborative effort is going to be the most effective,” Ide said.

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Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, contributed to this report.

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