PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Adam Hinds knows mountain biking is an emerging industry. But, he also knows people who drive through the Berkshires to get elsewhere for it.
"Mountain biking has been identified as an industry that is growing and we are well positioned for it," Hinds said.
According to New England Mountain Bike's Berkshire County Branch President Alison McGee, there are hundreds of great mountain biking trails throughout Berkshire County. But, most aren't mapped. Unless people are in certain Facebook groups or know others who can show them around, many don't know about them. She knows there are different levels of maintenance being done. And she knows not all of them have always been at the liking of property owners.
Back in September, outdoor recreational enthusiasts from a number of sports in the area joined together and an idea was sprung — let's get all of our trails mapped, marketed well, maintained, and properly authorized. That will both promote the sport and bring more people to the area. It is one of many efforts being done to support the outdoor recreation economy.
"The goal of designing trails has been a goal of longstanding riders for a long time," McGee said, but there just hadn't been enough momentum and money to do it professionally.
"What we have is a lot of volunteers using their free time to do what they can."
Hinds has now successfully lobbied the state to earmark $800,000 in an environmental bond bill to bring in professionals to identify the trails, map them, market them, and develop and construct new ones throughout Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden counties. He envisions Western Mass having "hubs" of mountain biking.
"It is really to be deliberate in creating the outdoor recreation infrastructure," Hinds said.
Hinds said some $46.9 billion is spent on bike trips — both mountain biking and road biking — and Kingdom Trails in Vermont has some 100,000 visitors annually. The increased visitors leads to increased shops and businesses openings such as what has been seen in Hawley with the growth of Berkshire East. Beyond that, the Berkshires have been losing population particularly among the younger generation, and mountain biking is an activity that can serve as a piece to help attract them back to the area to live.
McGee has been tied into the mountain biking community for years and has been places that have taken on similar efforts. The hotels are filled with mountain bikers and the crowds at the restaurants have plenty of people still in biking clothing.
"It is like going to a ski town but for mountain biking," she said.
When the visitors do come here, she said it is easy to direct them to Kennedy Park in Lenox because there are well mapped and marked trails. But while there are plenty of trails in the Pittsfield State Forest, those are harder for visitors because they lack signage.
The mountain biking community recently worked on trails at Springside Park. The group Greenagers did an inventory of the trails and identified a number that led to dead ends or ran closely with another. Those duplicates were eliminated and a new mountain biking trail was created. At the Greylock Glen, McGee said the group has been working closely with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to develop trails. The same collaboration happened in Beartown State Forest.
McGee said NEMBA has started the process to identify and work with landowners throughout the county to make sure trails are properly done.
"We have hundreds of trails here. Some were made by permission and some just have been here a long time and nobody knows who built it," she said of those efforts.
Particularly, she sees the effort as not just to make the Berkshires trail network more accessible but also for the safety of the hundreds in the county currently using the trails.
"If somebody gets hurt on a trail, emergency responders have the same map as the mountain bikers. Not that that happens a lot, but if something does happen ... ," McGee said.
But still, all the effort in mapping and maintenance is driven by volunteers. Hinds' proposal will bring in professional trail builders to take a look at the entire trail network, with all of them mapped out and seen in the big picture. They can then design a comprehensive set of trails and maps that can serve as the springboard for agencies like 1Berkshire to market and drive that economy. This effort will be coupled with the 12-mile Ashulwilticook Rail Trail and the creation of a road bicycling route through the county to promote the sport.
"We should be open to the possibility that the best trails may not be on state land," Hinds said of the scope of the work, citing another project he secured funds in the bond bill to help: the High Road hiking trail effort that looks to create a network throughout the county.
Hinds estimates that some $150,000 would be spent on doing assessments and mapping for mountain biking trails. The rest of the funds can go toward implementing the new plan and constructing trails — which could include acquiring land.
"I would love to see that [assessment] created by the end of the year," Hinds said.
McGee added that the focus wouldn't be exclusively on mountain biking but multi-use trails.
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