By Mike Lynch
For years, I’d heard good things about the mountain biking scene on Hardy Road in Wilmington, but I’d never actually experienced it for myself.
That changed in mid-September, when contributing writer Tim Rowland and I headed over there on a Friday evening to meet up with some regulars. Tim was writing about the scene for a future issue, and I was there to gather some images.
Maintained by the Barkeater Trails Alliance, the Beaver Brook Tract trail system is located in the Wilmington Wild Forest, just minutes away from the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area. It’s one of numerous multi-purpose mountain bike trails that have popped up in the Wilmington area over the years, including the Flume Trails near the West Branch of the Ausable River and Poor Man’s Downhill that starts near the base of Whiteface Memorial Highway and finishes on Route 86. (By the way, since it’s almost winter I’ll note that the Poor Man’s Downhill provides great skiing opportunities, as former Explorer Editor Phil Brown and I experienced a few years back. The other trail systems don’t ski as well though because they were designed with biking in mind. People do walk or trail run on them though. )
Shortly after I arrived at what is known as the Beaver Brook Tract this particular day, I met up with Tim and we started walking the loop parking area to find Jim and Amanda Grant, a couple of mountain bikers who had graciously agreed to lead us around.
Before long, we found them gearing up for the bike trip. As we got to talking, they asked what we were looking to do. What kind of lighting did we want for the images and what route were we interested in exploring.
After a brief discussion, we settled on heading up the All-In route, which is a Friday evening tradition for riders. Jim explained that riders like to ascend to a viewpoint on Friday evenings in the warmer months and socialize for a short while before heading down prior to sunset. Some riders meet up in the parking lot and others simply gather with others at the vista, noted for its good view of Whiteface Mountain.
For this ride, the Grants got two other regulars to join us: Bridget O’Leary and Bill Pierson
Jim warned that the route we settled on was the steepest, but most direct to the top. This was important since we wanted to get to the summit prior before the light faded. The route called for ascending about 760 feet over two miles from the trailhead to the summit.
As we entered the woods, we moved through the woods in a flat section and soon came upon a scenic pine forest, which reminded me of the one near the rail trail near Saranac Lake on the Jackrabbit Trail.
Soon after the real work started as we began to go uphill. As we ascended, Jim and Amanda took turns going downhill in some sections to show off some features, such as boulders, along the way.
Rated a black diamond, I found the All-In trail difficult but manageable. I spend most of my time paddling, hiking and biking on the road in the warmer months. That meant I struggled a bit with some of the steeper sections, spinning my wheels on the dirt and rocks. But anywhere that happened or when I needed to catch my breath, I could quickly hop off and walk the bike uphill.
In general, the trail had its share of switchbacks on the steep sections and longer straighter sections on the flat parts.
We got to the vista, where a few people were already gathered, talking and enjoying beers to cap off the week. In the distance, we could see Whiteface Mountain. Occasionally a new biker would arrive, introducing themselves if they were new and assimilating quickly. It was a relaxed, carefree atmosphere, and the regulars reminded Tim and I this was not a competitive group that gathered. Newcomers were welcome, and the local bike shops sometimes send visitors here to mingle with the locals.
I should note that If you’re thinking of biking these trails, it’s important to keep the conditions in mind. If it’s muddy and wet, BETA recommends that people stay off the trails, so they don’t get damaged. But the ground is frozen and dry, the riding can be good deep into the fall, according to BETA Executive Director Josh Wilson.
“The season is definitely winding down, but that’s one of the drier places to ride,” said Wilson.