From easy to challenging, mountain bikers find the trails

Mountain biking finds its flow in Midcoast’s abundant terrain

Single track, gravity
Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:30am

Over the past decade, the number of mountain biking trails has grown exponentially in the Midcoast. New networks of have been built: the Goose River trails, off the southwest side of Ragged Mountain in Rockport, loops over steep descents, its features peppered with nicknames — Tim Pan Alley, Soundgarden, Lollipop Loop Cakewalk. To the south, the Thomaston Town Forest, with its 500 acres of coniferous woods, offers another nine miles of trails, known for its beginner-friendly terrain.

Older trails at the Camden Snow Bowl, Camden Hills State Park and Rockland Bog, as well as the ones that have no names, wind through the landscape. Adventurous mountain bikers take on some of the prettiest, and rugged, Midcoast territory.

Mountain biking is now an established foundation of the local outdoor economy, and bike shops are preoccupied almost nonstop in the spring and early summer, oiling gears and adjusting suspensions. The Penobscot Bay area has become a destination for outdoor activities, and mountain biking has joined the list of popular draws, a list that includes four seasons of hiking, sailing, rowing, swimming, skiing.

But there is something about mountain biking that has firmly settled it into local culture. In the fall, teams of high school mountain bikers stream down the back roads, veering off suddenly, and with bursts of energy, into the woods and to their favorite practice trails. In the winter, it’s not unusual to watch fat bikes heading into the woods. In Thomaston, the Town Forest trail is machine groomed for fat biking in the winter, the result of a partnership between Midcoast Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (McNEMBA) and the Georges River Land Trust.

And in the summer, bikes share the same paths with hikers, as they all make way for each other.

At Oceanside Middle School, in Thomaston, a fleet of 36 new bikes courtesy of a grant from the Specialized Foundation is the foundation for a new curriculum focus, getting students — especially those with learning differences — outside and moving, so that they return to the classroom to achieve academic, health, and social success.

McNEMBA has teamed up with Georges River Land Trust to instruct children and teenagers about building and maintaining trails that are environmentally sustainable, holding scheduled workshops.

“This area is just exploding with all new pieces of new trails, up and down the Midcoast, and people are riding all sorts of terrain,” said Andrew Dailey, who along with Brian Kelly, owns Sidecountry Sports. The business has two locations: downtown Rockland and at the Camden Snow Bowl, and both owners are avid mountain bikers. They team up with Georges River Land Trust, McNEMBA, and other organizations to encourage mountain biking. 

And they share the biking passion with John Anders, trail manager at Georges River Land Trust, himself a longtime advocate of creating trails in the region.

“Two really significant developments” are underway in the area this season, he said.

That includes Phase Two of building the Thomaston Town Forest trail system, extending it from 4.5 miles to nine miles of machine-groomed, a looping network that is popular with all ages, and which connects to more challenging terrain in the nearby Rockland Bog. That project is also supported by the Town of Thomaston, which owns the land with the exception of Jack Baker Woods, a GRLT parcel, which has a trailhead that connects to the town forest off of Beachwood Street.  The land trust provides stewardship and management for the trails. 

“Thomaston is an advocate for outdoor recreation and trails,” said Anders. “They have contributed money and also plow the Booker St (Pollution Control) and the Jack Baker Woods trail heads to facilitate winter access.”

Work also began this season on the long-anticipated Round the Mountain Trail, which will encircle the 1,000-foot tall Ragged Mountain, whose slopes stretch into Camden, Hope and Rockport. That ambitious project belongs to the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, which has been steadily acquiring property on and near the mountain to permanently protect 1,400 acres. That trail system is intended for four-season use — walking, hiking, running, biking, snow-shoeing and cross-country sking.

The Round the Mountain Trail will connect with the municipally-owned Camden Snow Bowl trails, which in turn, connect with the Goose River trail network, creating a succession of accessible places to ride bikes, with a variety of challenging levels, from easy to expert.

The popularity of mountain biking with area youth (sometimes up to 70 children and adults have participated in regular Monday evening rides at the Camden Snow Bowl) has prompted organizers to double opportunities this year, with novices encouraged to first ride the Thomaston Forest trails and the more advanced to explore the Snow Bow trails.

And some day, trails in the Thomaston Town Forest, the Rockland Bog (the “hidden gem,” said Dailey), the Goose River trail network in West Rockport and the Camden Snow Bowl may all connect.

“That would be an amazing accomplishment,” said Dailey. “But it’s totally doable.”


Weekly events through the season

Youth Explorers: Kids of all ages and experience levels enjoy group rides, basic riding instruction and an introduction to trails. New for 2019 is hosting half of the Monday night sessions at the Thomaston Town Forest. Monday nights, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Sidecountry Wednesday Evening rides/demos: On Wednesday evenings, May through September, 5:30 p.m., at the Camden Snow Bowl, Sidecountry Sports offers beginner rides, “for the first timers,” said Dailey.