I’m following Keith McKeever and his friends up a mountain-bike trail on a bright summer afternoon. The trail climbs smoothly but unrelentingly as it switchbacks up the side of Winch Mountain in Wilmington.
I’m feeling good at first, legs spinning, tires grabbing the soil. But after a few minutes I start to feel an ache in my chest, my breathing gets more labored, and my speed falters. Soon I come to a stop. Sweat drips off my forehead as I hunch over the handlebars and re-oxygenate my lungs.
Keith looks back as he turns up the next switchback. “Nice job!” he yells. “You’re almost halfway up.” Then he disappears around the bend.
The Adirondack Park is associated with many outdoor pursuits, but traditionally mountain biking has not been one of them. Fat-tire cycling options have, with a few exceptions, been sorely lacking in a park that prides itself on being one of the outdoor capitals of the East. Options were either dull dirt roads or trails so rugged, thanks to roots, mud, and rocks, that only experts or masochists would want to ride them.
Some cycling advocates in the Lake Placid region are trying to change that. Calling themselves the Barkeater Trail Alliance, or BETA for short, they have developed miles and miles of mountain-bike trails in Wilmington, Lake Placid, and Saranac Lake in cooperation with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), private landowners, and local municipalities.
“This whole effort is about getting people together to have really good trails on the ground,” says Matt McNamara, the main founder of BETA. “I hope folks discover us.”
Even before BETA organized in 2009, local bikers had labored for years to improve trail-riding opportunities. An earlier organization, the Adirondack Mountain Bike Initiative, was active for about five years starting in 2000. In Wilmington, Bert Yost and some other residents started adapting cross-country ski trails for biking.
“We were probably doing it off the books,” recalls Yost (meaning: without permission). Now sixty-five (he and his wife run Willkommen Hof bed-and-breakfast in Wilmington), he’s still an active mountain biker.
The trail building soon came to the attention of DEC, but rather than put a stop to it, the department incorporated the new trails in its management plan for the Wilmington Wild Forest. The early routes are now known as the Flume Trails. The network has its own parking lot, located just down the road from the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center.
After the opening of the Flume Trails, Yost and the other volunteers went to work on creating a network of bike trails in the woods on either side of Hardy Road, this time under the watchful eye of DEC.
Photos by Josh Wilson: Above, Bill Fraser; below, Matt McNamara descends the Good Luck Trail off Hardy Road in Wilmington.
More stories about the Adirondacks can be found in each issue of Adirondack Explorer, the non-profit news magazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.