By George Calver, Standard Correspondent
KILLINGTON — Always on the lookout for ways to boost tourism and the local economy, the Killington Selectboard voted earlier last month to support applications for grants to construct a mountain bike trail system in town.
Town Manager Seth Webb said that the two-phase project could be largely grant funded if approved. The town sent applications to the U.S. Forest Service, the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Vermont Department of Forests, and the Vermont Mountain Bike Association for about $400,000 in grants.
The proposal envisions about 15 miles of family- friendly trails as part of a larger town-wide initiative to link the Killington Resort mountain biking trails with the greater Killington community, primarily using Green Mountain National Forest land.
“Our Town Plan specifically cites the creation of a multi-use trail system as a way to provide additional amenities for tourists and residents,” Webb said.
Killington would be trying to emulate East Burke’s project in the Northeast Kingdom around Burke Mountain — a recently completed and highly successful initiative that has boosted the community’s nonskiing season, attracting more than 50,000 visitors and numerous races and biking festivities.
Burke’s system, known as the Kingdom Trails, encompasses about 100 miles through the surrounding hills of wooded and pastoral settings with access in and through the ski hill area as well. The Burke Mountain trails can also be reached by pedal power, or more easily for a downhill run, by way of the Sherburne Express High Speed Quad.
Closer to home, the town of West Windsor has for several years supported and funded a 30-mile long mountain biking and recreational trail network in its Town Forest which links various trails on Ascutney Mountain Resort land and over several private properties.
Plans are also in the works to add a 3.2-mile loop in Ascutney State Park this year.
The Ascutney network, managed and maintained by the nonprofit Sports Trails of the Ascutney Basin, has not been nearly as successful as Burke’s. Nonetheless, it has been seen as an important contributor to local tourism and economy ever since the ski hill closed.
STAB will be hosting the Vermont Mountain Biking Festival from July 11-13 for the second year in a row.
Currently, Killington Resort offers 45 miles of trails where bikers can reach the mountain top either by the K-1 Express Gondola — or by pedal power to gain the 4,241-foot summit and bike over trails, ranging from classic cross-country single track to what the resort describes as “ challenging big–bike downhill and freeriding trails.”
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For now, town officials will have to wait to see the results of the U.S. Forest Service’s evaluation of the town’s proposal — an evaluation that will include analyses of the biological, botanical, ecological and archeological resources as part of field reviews this summer. But why more trails when we seem to be surrounded by a plethora of mountain biking venues? According to a recent survey done on behalf of the international Mountain Bike Association, mountain bike sales in the United States are climbing fast — a 16 percent increase from July 2012 to July 2013 and an increase of 11 percent the previous year, but more importantly, according to IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel, there is a correlation between the quality and accessibility of trails and growth.
“We know that people ride more often when they have more inspiring trails to ride. The closer these trails are to their homes, the more they will get out on their bikes, and the more they will spend,” Van Able wrote in a recent press release.