• Mountain bike trails set to open, state organization launches new membership program
    By Sarah Galbraith
    Correspondent | April 27,2014
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    Tristan von Duntz photo

    Mountain bikers head onto the Perry Hill trails in Waterbury for a trail building workshop presented by Vermont Mountain Bike Association in 2013.
    Many of Vermont’s favorite mountain bike trails soon will open for the 2014 season. On Easter Sunday, Pine Hill Park in Rutland opened some of its trails to mountain bikes. Six riders from Onion River Sports in Montpelier, myself included, headed down for opening day to get the legs and hearts pumping.

    Other central Vermont mountain bike trail systems are scheduled to open soon. Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association will open its trails throughout May. Perry Hill in Waterbury will open in mid-May. Millstone Hill Touring Center in Websterville will open soon, too. Most opening dates are dependent on the weather and the trails being dry.

    A rider code of responsibility includes staying off mountain bike trails when they are muddy and wet. Most trail systems have season open and close dates for mountain biking to minimize negative impact to the trail caused by riding in the spring and fall mud seasons. Trails are also closed during periods of rainy weather. Many public trail systems are closed to mountain bikers during hunting season as well. Riders should check in with local mountain bike clubs to get updates.

    Vermont mountain bikers have access to nearly 650 miles of public singletrack throughout the state. Seventy percent of these trails are on private land, and they exist because of landowners who are willing to share their property with the public. Increasingly, trails are being built on public land such as town forests, state forests and in the Green Mountain National Forest. The Leicester Hollow-Chandler Ridge loop was built for mountain bikers in the Silver Lake area of Moosalamoo National Forest in Leicester in 2011. Blueberry Lake in Green Mountain National Forest in East Warren was opened to mountain biking in 2012.

    Who is to thank for all of these trails, and for access to private and public lands? In large part, it is the local mountain bike clubs whose dues-paying members put in countless volunteer hours organizing projects and constructing trail. Vermont currently has 15 clubs, with new ones coming online all the time. Club size ranges from 15 to 700 members.

    These mountain bike clubs are supported by an umbrella organization, Vermont Mountain Bike Association. In exchange for dues, VMBA provides affiliated clubs with nonprofit status, insurance, support for landowner relations, access to grant money for trail projects, and a voice at the statehouse.

    In the past, clubs recruited their own members and paid a portion of their income to VMBA for their benefits. New this year, VMBA is recruiting members directly, and in the process of joining VMBA, members will affiliate with a local mountain bike club. The new membership structure changes the flow of money between clubs and VMBA, but it does not change the cost of membership in most cases.

    Half the membership fee, which is $49 for individuals and $98 for families, goes to supporting VMBA. The other half goes directly to the club’s coffers for building trails, hosting events and other expenses. Members can elect to support additional clubs at $24.50 each. This does not change the amount of income for clubs, because dues were always paid to VMBA in the past.

    Tom Stuessy, executive director of VMBA, says estimates of the number of mountain bikers in Vermont range from 12,000 to 15,000. But he says only about 12 percent of Vermont’s riders are joining clubs. He hopes the new centralized call for membership will attract new members and increase income for VMBA and clubs.

    Members receive 80 coupons to places such as bike shops, restaurants, touring centers and ski resorts. Clubs often offer their own membership benefits as well, such as discounts at local businesses. More importantly, the new membership structure unifies all Vermont mountain bikers under one roof, and VMBA is strengthened by serving the local clubs.

    Increased membership and support also means more money goes into the trails. Every trail costs something to design, construct and maintain. To ride a chapter’s trails is to spend their money. Increasingly, Vermont’s riders are supporting mountain biking in Vermont. “More and more riders are seeing the important role they play in sustaining our riding in Vermont,” Stuessy says.

    As evidence of their support, riders who join VMBA are given a green sticker to put on their bike as a visual cue to other riders that they are supporters of VMBA. To promote increased membership, an ambassador program puts members on the trails throughout the state to talk with riders about the benefits of membership.

    These changes will strengthen mountain biking in Vermont. “As chapters become unified, our value as a state-level partner develops. In addition, I think riders recognize their participation is a meaningful part of maintaining their trails,” Stuessy says.

    By providing opportunities for riders of all ability levels to access trails in their own communities, we improve the health of our citizens. As Craig Whipple, director of state parks for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, puts it, “The value to individuals is huge. Mountain biking, hiking, birding are all opportunities for people to get out of doors and connect with nature. Trails provide the doorway to that environment. It’s well-documented that it’s good for our health.”

    There has never been a better time to tune up your bike and hit the trail. Just don’t forget your VMBA membership sticker, and check with your local club for trail updates before heading out.

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