UMaine 4H students outdoors behind the Bethel Inn wait for their lesson. Meira Bienstock

BETHEL — Gabe Perkins,  executive director at Inland Woods + Trails, stands outside behind the Bethel Inn facing a class from UMaine. Next to him stands Ryder Scott, director for the UMaine 4H Bryant Pond campus. Since the class is here for the Outdoor Leadership winter term curriculum, it’s decided to discuss the history of Inland Woods + Trails outdoors.

Perkins tells the story with enthusiasm.

In the beginning, around 15 years ago, Inland Woods and Trails, which was part of what was then Bethel Area Trails, a subcommittee of a local land trust working on trails helped put in multi-use pathways along the river.

It then started an organization dedicated to trails, connecting communities through the trails. This was known as the Mahoosuc Pathways. The goal was to connect the Bethel pathway into a multi-use pathway everybody could use, to stretch it out, so to speak.

Meanwhile, there was suite of land called the Bingham Forest, it was 2,400 acres, and Perkins and his team were working with the town for years to get access to it. They built trails up there, access was developed, but then, the access went away. The idea of the trails for the community under threat brought them to thinking of a way to secure access to the town’s resources while giving Perkins and his team viability. And so, they decided to become landlords, landowners.

“We’ve never done that sort of thing where I was a staff person and had to convince in some ways, the town, a now national project called The Trust for Public Lands, that does conservation projects in all 50 states, that we were viable in doing this,” says Gabe Perkins.

“So these are sort of simultaneous things [to the] day before Thanksgiving, 2016, the GM of this resort [Bethel Inn], sent a text message to one of my board members … and in the end … we sell memberships in the country club, with cross conceiving part of it. And so we went from me working three quarters of a time to, in one month, hiring people, becoming full-time myself, buying $9,000 worth of equipment, and learning how to run a cross-country ski center … so I mean, I love trials by fire and that was trial by fire.”

Perkins explains all the time he and his team put into mowing the trails.

“And in an uncertain climate future, that’s kind of what we need [cleaning of trails]. You know, we need to be able to do more with less in the winter.”

“Most of all of the downhill resorts in New England … they can’t survive without making snow,” says Scott. “And so you know, when Gabe is talking about skiing on four inches of snow, it’s that tenuous and that’s why the trail maintenance, and all the investment and the time and money and everything into making the actual surface, the ground, as smooth as possible, is so critical.”

With some of Sunday River’s trails so steep and cultivated for the 1%, Perkins says, they wanted to design slopes for the other 99% of skiers.

“And so that’s why it took longer and was harder and more expensive, because we could have just worked with landowners and crisscrossed the neighborhood, but instead, we use a mini excavator with these 32-inch-wide excavators that can get into tight spaces and build this beautiful surface. And so there’s six miles here at the buffalo end that operate in the summer that connect to the six miles at the Gould Academy.”

The day ended with a UMaine graduate who worked for Inland Woods and Trails talking about his experience with the company before the students left to go skiing.

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