A popular network of mountain bike trails in Auburn is about to get a whole lot nicer.
Three trail builders and one machine operator have spent June and July working on a purpose-built mountain bike trail on Mount Apatite that will “make (riders) smile all day long because of the flow,” said Chris Riley, president of the Central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association.
And the builders are not even close to being finished.
By the time the two college students and one high school senior head back to school at the end of August, more than 1.5 miles of single track will be ready to ride.
And by the time the students are back home for Christmas break, Riley is hoping that a separate crew of volunteers will have that “flow trail” stretched to three miles.
“It’s gonna be really cool,” Riley said.
The trail work is being made possible through a $10,000 NEMBA signature grant that Riley applied for with the backing of the Androscoggin Land Trust and the city of Auburn.
“The city was fantastic to work with,” Riley said. “There was positive feedback all the way through.”
The existing trails at the city-owned park have already been seeing a lot more tire tracks over the past couple of years. Weekly organized rides happen every Wednesday, and Ryan Walker of Sabattus and Frank Jalbert of Lewiston often put together volunteer trail crews to build new trails or repair existing ones.
What started as one “Blue” and one “Red” trail 30 years ago now includes a network of tight, single-track trails with names such as “Hansel,” “Gretel” and “Trail School,” a .3-mile trail built in 2017 during a one-day trail-building clinic put on by NEMBA.
Riding at Mount Apatite today is a lot different than when John Grenier started riding there 25 years ago.
“You would never know what you were going to get,” said Grenier, of Lewiston. “There were no clear lines to ride through and there were gigantic ruts that bikes would disappear into.”
There are lines now, he said. “There are interesting uphills and interesting downhills. The trails have features built into them.”
“The trails are not necessarily easier to ride, but there is rhythm to it,” Grenier said.
Riley is doing what he can to make the trails approachable for all abilities.
“The growth of the sport has caused the demand for trails with more flow and design elements and trails that are approachable to newer riders,” Riley said.
The yet-to-be named trails at Mt. Apatite are being built by machine and by hand in a way that will make them much smoother than trails built with the old “rake-and-ride” approach.
The trail builders remove all of the rocks and roots that they can to create a “flow trail” that is much more friendly to beginner riders while still holding the level of interest needed to cater to more experienced riders.
Jeremy Nellis, the machine operator from Bethel, said that building trails that are more friendly to younger and newer riders has been a bit of a trend this summer.
He has been involved in building “flow trails” in Cape Elizabeth’s Winnick Woods and in Bethel, where children from the Mahoosuc Kids Association after-school program ride their mountain bikes.
Nellis first rode a trail that was machine-built seven years ago. He sold his house soon after that and bought an excavator on the way to the sale closing.
He has been building trails ever since.
“It will be great to get this open and see people riding,” Nellis said.
The trails being built by the trail crew are closed until the builders are finished. Riley said an announcement will be made when the trails are open, possibly by Sept. 1.
Jeremy Nellis, center, Nolan Rogers, left, Gabe Fein, back, and Thomas Marshall pause to decide what their next move will be while working on the new mountain bike trail at Mount Apatite in Auburn. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Gabe Fein, left, Nolan Rogers and Thomas Marshall work on the new mountain bike trail at Mount Apatite in Auburn. The trail crew was hired to build the trail after the Central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association received a $10,000 grant to add to the existing network of trails on the city-owned property. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
The goal is to have 1.6 miles of new trail open by September and 3 miles by the time the snow flies, said Chris Riley, president of the Central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
“We have a lot of rocks. We might as well show people where they are,” said trail builder Nolan Rogers. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)