Cumberland’s sprawling signature maze of mountain bike trails are more popular than ever, but that also comes with its challenges.
For the system’s stewards, the United Riders of Cumberland (UROC), that means constantly attending to shifting relationships, or even conflict, among different user groups such as hikers and bike riders — issues around proper trail etiquette and ecological impact.
“The appetite for trail use is increasing,” UROC executive director Dougal Browne said.
According to Browne, the trail system, described as the fifth-busiest, has become one of the leading trail networks in North America. It includes more than 185 trails, many crossing private land. The group has also grown in recent years to the point where it has almost 2,100 members, up from 721 a few years ago.
“We’re always hearing about trees down and problems in the network that we go and fix,” he said. “The very nature of the network is changing.”
UROC is developing a strategic plan to focus on these issues over the next three to five years. To produce a plan, members conducted a survey of users and received more than 500 respondents. They also relied on trail counter data and feedback from stakeholders. The current draft of the plan will be referred to Cumberland town council.
Goals include maintaining and enhancing the trails through the work of 63 active trail builders and which took place over many sessions. At the same time, they have to consider values such as water protection, the working forest around the trails and potential wildlife conflicts, all while creating the best user experience.
Specifically, they are looking at reducing ‘pinch points,’ or areas of high traffic, often where people enter or exit. The group has done ‘heat mapping’ to highlight these spots as well as underscore the need for better trail connectivity and spreading users around the system. They said redesigning some trails can help reduce potential conflict.
As concerns about extreme climate events such as ‘atmospheric rivers’ or forest fire threats mountain, so do questions about whether this might mean more periods when trails have to be closed.
Browne said they have been noticing changes in the network and may consider more closures when needed.
“We’re very aware of the change in the climate,” he said. “We’re not really sure what’s happening tomorrow, but we’ve definitely seen what happened yesterday.”
While the system and group continues to grow, Browne said the aim was not one of endless expansion.
“We’re not going to build more trails for the sake of building trails,” he said.