Community celebrates newest addition on county-owned land
By Tim Rowland
As one of the people spearheading a new mountain biking trail project in Keene, DeAnna Brown prepared certificates for everyone who helped. It amounted to quite a stack of paperwork.
“We had a lot of volunteer hours,” she said. “It’s amazing what people can do when they work together.”
As much as a source of recreation, the East Branch Community Trails have been a source of connectivity among town residents, including a coterie of young riders who are years away from being eligible to drive.
From a phalanx of bikes lined up in front of a firepit-turned-podium, they hooted their approval for one and all who helped make the multi-use trails a reality during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 25. The park is 3.5 miles north of the 9N/73 intersection in Keene, on the right.
Keene is more typically known as a hiking destination. Apologizing for being late, Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson arrived at the park’s ribbon cutting ceremony in a hiker shuttle van and wearing a “Frontcountry Steward” polo shirt and spending his Sunday morning getting hikers to their destination and helping them find trails commensurate with their experience; the job of supervisor in Keene requires a multiplicity of talents.
But until this year, Keene had lacked a dedicated mountain biking destination, said Josh Wilson, executive director of BETA, the Barkeater Trails Alliance, which builds and maintains trails in the eastern Adirondacks.
Wilson said the park, which began as an idea of the Keene Youth Commission, came together rapidly, owing largely to the enthusiasm and help of the community. “Most projects like this don’t come together as fast,” Wilson said.
In February, Essex County supervisors approved the plan for 113 acres of little-used county property on Route 9N near the Keene-Jay town line, which primarily serves as a weekend picnic area.
Tracts of county ground such as these have historically been logged on occasion, but supervisors have of late come to the recognition that the lands likely have more value as recreational areas.
Funding came together with help from BETA’s Sterling Watchorn Trail Fund, the Stewart’s Shops Foundation & Dake Family, the Adirondack Foundation, the Adirondack Community Recreation Alliance, a coalition supported by the Northern Forest Center and $10,000 in local donations.
The park was planned by the Youth Commission, BETA and Peduzzi Trails Contracting with both mountain biking and other forms of recreation in mind. Along with biking, the lower trails — smoother than more rugged mountain-biking trails — will be suitable for hiking, dog walking and cross country skiing.
Two loops — “Leepoff Loop” and “Climbing Trail” — totalling 2.5 miles are open now, with more-typical mountain biking trails to be phased in higher up on the property in coming years, Wilson said. “This will really fill in the gap (between Wilmington and Elizabethtown trails), really for the first time bringing mountain biking trails to Keene,” he said. “This is a transformational project for the community.”
Luke Peduzzi, who built the trails with the help of volunteers, said when he attended Keene Central School he would ride his bike to the trails to Wilmington, so it was important to him for Keene to have its own network.
“When I was in school we didn’t have a mountain biking opportunity,” he said. “We have something for the kids now, and hopefully it will create a lifelong interest in mountain biking and stewardship.”
The property has well-drained soils conducive to trail building, and a natural uphill gradient allowing for increasing degrees of difficulty. When completed, the park will have between seven and eight miles of trail, including an overlook.
The property also abuts an adjunct of the Wilmington Wild Forest which includes Clements Pond, presenting an interesting bushwhacking opportunity, Peduzzi said. “There’s a cool series of ridges leading to Clements Pond; the tract is very pleasant hiking,” he said.
Part of the goal, said Supervisor Wilson, was to make the county property conducive to a wide number of pursuits. “The layout and construction is incredible,” he said. “People will be able to have all kinds of adventures out here.”