Mountain bikers aim to improve Topsham trails, grow use

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TOPSHAM — Lawrence Kovacs is among mountain biking enthusiasts who hope that by expanding the area’s network of trails, the pool of participants will broaden accordingly.

He is president of the Six Rivers chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, which formed in April and serves bikers in Bath, Brunswick and Topsham. The group also plans to expand to the Schmid Preserve in Edgecomb.

Partnerships with municipalities, landowners and land trusts in the first two communities have been fruitful, and Kovacs’ group is focused in the coming months on continuing that progress in Topsham.

The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority partnered with the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, the town of Brunswick, and Six Rivers to establish Neptune Woods, a multi-use trail that opened at Brunswick Landing in October. It offers about 4 miles of “single track” for mountain bikers.

“Mountain bike trails are called single track, and they’re really narrow, big enough for a single biker,” Kovacs said Dec. 5 in his classroom at Bath Middle School, where he teaches gifted and talented and robotics programs.

“There’s sort of this buzz about mountain biking,” he said. With an eye toward promoting the activity for youths, Bath Middle School received grant funds in spring 2017 to pay for 25 mountain bikes, a “pump track” on Bath property, and five bicycle repair stations.

Neptune Woods has a “mostly beginner”- level track, Kovacs noted. “The mountain biking around here, especially in Bath, is rugged; it is an acquired taste.”

“It’s like oysters,” he added. “If you’re into oysters, it takes a lot of work to get into one.”

From Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, “we’re hoping to … connect eventually out to Brunswick Commons,” he noted. “It would be great if somebody could arrive at Brunswick, ride Neptune Woods, and then ride their bike over to Bath,” which has “no less than 30 miles of good single track.”

“We’re trying to legitimize trail that exists,” ensuring landowner permission has been given for access, he said, “and also create trail where we have permissions.”

To that end, Six Rivers has set its sights on forested property the town of Topsham owns next to its solid waste facility, between Foreside Road and Middlesex Road (Route 24). The land has been used by ATV and snowmobile riders, and Six Rivers approached Town Planner Rod Melanson about expanding usage to the two-wheeled vehicles.

A mountain biker himself, Melanson supported the idea, Kovacs said. About 5 miles of looped trail was designed, which about 40 people helped to clear Nov. 11.

That trail system “is going to be easier yet than Neptune,” Kovacs assured. “… It’s pretty flat.”

Further trail work is planned for next spring. A movie and silent auction or raffle is in the works to raise funds for trail maintenance and development.

“Right now our big focus is planning the trail work days for the next calendar year,” he said, expressing confidence that another day or two like the one last month could make the trails “ready to roll.”

“The human power, you just need to move brush,” Kovacs noted. “You’ve got to get the brush off the trail. And with a lot of people you can do it pretty quickly. … I really do think it’s a conservative estimate to say this thing will be rideable by early spring.”

In the meantime, snow-covered trails are being groomed and packed down for use by “fat bikes” – mountain bikes with tire widths of 4-to-5 inches, Kovacs said.

Six Rivers operates a page at facebook.com/sixriversnemba and plans to launch its own website New Year’s Day. It is due to include trail maps, trail conditions, contact information, announcements of events like weekly rides and trail work days, and a blog by a mountain bike enthusiast.

Although it’s hard to top Kovacs’ enthusiasm.

“I’ve lived here for 15 years, and I’ve enjoyed these trails more than I can relay,” he said. “It’s part of almost every day of my life. And it’s really exciting that we have taken the leap from being these lone wolves who just go out in the woods and ride around, to this organized group (whose members) all share this mission of making biking more accessible for people, and getting kids involved.”

“I think it’s good news,” he added. 

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Lawrence Kovacs, president of the Six Rivers chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, has spread his enthusiasm for the activity at Bath Middle School. Grant funding allowed the school to purchase up to 25 mountain bikes for student use.

The Six Rivers chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association is working to clear trails in Topsham.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.