Build it and they will bike.
That is the vision that Jason Engelhardt has for new bike trails in North Madison’s , off of Durham road near Devonshire Lane.
The idea came to Engelhardt, a math teacher at Daniel Hand High School, while he was trying to find a place for the school's cycling club to ride.
“The students and I thought the Rockland Preserve was the best terrain in Madison. But we also saw opportunities to make the trails more usable and technically interesting," he says.
Working the trails
Engelhardt, a self-described outdoor enthusiast, worked alongside the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) to receive permission from both the Rockland Preserve Board, and the Madison Beach & Recreation Director to break ground in February 2012. Nearly every Saturday, weather permiting, Engelhardt meets up with volunteer students from Daniel Hand and adults from the community to work on the trails.
“We are making really great progress.” says Engelhardt, “It is great to see this group of students out in the woods with shovels and rakes, cheering when together they finally clear a huge boulder from the trails.”
The group has named themselves the “Singletracks of Rockland. "SOR" is their shorthand.
From rock gardens to whoop-te-dos, the best singletrack is technical
Singletrack refers to bike trails that are only wide enough for a single mountain bike, unlike wider paths like bridle trails that also might be used by horseback riders and fire trails that might also be used as emergency access roads. Trails might include strategically placed rocks or rock gardens, tree roots, logs, dips, curves, moguls and whoop-te-dos (a series of moguls).
Some mountain biking trails are technical, meaning that they include many difficult elements to conquer, without being completely impossible. Air (taking a jump so that there is space, or air, between both tires and the ground) is good. Endos, or flying headfirst over the handlebars after unsuccessfully navigating an obstacle, are not so good, but are also sometimes fun. Involuntary dismounts, aka crashing, sometimes occur, but most mountain bikers take that as a challenge to do better the next time.
The trails being built at Rocklands trails are geared toward the rider looking for a pleasant and flowing ride with a mixture of speed and challenge. "This is a more grown-up style of riding," Englehardt says. "Coincidentally, it is fantastic trail for trail running, hiking, dog walking, and cross country skiing as well.
Creating sustaintable bike trails to bring more community use and participation to the park
Englehardt has been working hard on this project for quite a while. He began by first asking the Rockland Board if there was interest in building a sustainable bike trail that would bring more use and community participation to the park in late 2011.
After a string of emails that included the Rockland Board, Town of Madison, and the New England Mountain Bike Association, which builds based on IMBA standards, Englehardt says he developed a route, submitted it to the town and board, walked the route with wetlands officials and the project was given a green light.
Englehardt and the volunteers have been building since approval in February and have been using IMBA approved standards, which take into account the impact of trails on the environment and other useres.
Sustainable routes to encourage people to stay on the trail
"These are methods researched to provide the most sustainable routes that encourage people to stay on the trail and are cogniscent of potential erosion," Englhardt says. "In fact, in the limited time we have had our first trails in place, these trails have improved with rain and are holding up beautifully. These are not easily eroded trails. These are trails that are bench cut to effectively slope water down hill and away from the trail without disturbing the surrounding area."
The best trails can attract visitors from far and wide
The best singletrack often serves as a destination for dedicated riders who will travel far and wide to take on new, challenging trails. The best trails receive global visitors in locations like Moab, British Columbia, and locally in northern Vermont.
The SOR team plans to build some great singletrack.
“Building singletracks offers multiple benefits to Madison” says Engelhardt. “For one, it will allow more people to appreciate the natural beauty of Rockland Preserve. In 1997, the citizens of Madison voted to purchase the 649 acre preserve. Today, the western side of the park receives frequent use from naturalists, Boy Scouts, and New England Trail users. The eastern side of the park, which is steeply sloped and more rugged, is less frequented. We have already found evidence of poaching and motorized use. That activity has been absent since we’ve been here.”
A park looking for a purpose
Engelhardt saw that the eastern portion of Rockland Preserve was a park looking for purpose.
“Initially, the eastern part of the park was planned to be a golf course. The developers backed out and it has remained unplanned for over 10 years,” he says.
In May 2012, the Board of Selectmen voted to not build a golf course at Rockland anytime before 2020, a decision that allowed for more favorable financing terms on bonds. Englehardt saw that as an opportunity.
Promoting an appreciation of nature, healthy lifestyles, and lots of fun
“We have at least seven years to prove to Madison that the best use for this land is to promote appreciation of nature and healthy lifestyles. I believe that in that time we can turn Rockland into a destination for biking, trail running, hiking, dog walking, and cross-country skiing.”
So far, SOR has cut about 3 miles of narrow trail that volunteers are working to perfect. The group is also working to create easy-to-use bike maps to help bikers navigate the park and to improve the network of existing trails. SOR maintains close relations with the Rockland Advisory Committee and the Madison Wetlands Officer to ensure that their activities do not intrude on the interests of other users or create an adverse environmental impact.
Engelhardt has set October 7th as the day for the grand opening of the new bike trails at Rockland Preserve; it’s a daunting time frame but he says is confident with a little help from some friends the trails will be up and running.
Volunteers needed! "It's going to be amazing."
“We are looking for volunteers, lots of volunteers” says Jason “We will be working all through-out the summer. Starting July 14th every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and at other times by request of volunteer groups.”
If hefting boulders and digging track are not your thing, the “Trailmakers” are looking for donations including use of a locking job box for tool storage, trail tools, and decking materials. They are also interested in some lighter active volunteer work, such as photojournalism and trail marking.
“It’s going to be amazing” says Engelhardt. “I can really see in the future biking enthusiasts coming from all over to use these new Rockland Preserve Trails. Whoever comes to work on the trails feels the excitement too.”