Oiling The Chains

UVMBA, Dartmouth in Talks to Enhance Bike Trails

West Lebanon — For generations, the approximately 2,800 acres of undeveloped, wooded land nestled between Wilder Dam and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center has been used for a bevy of recreational pursuits.

Now, the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association and Dartmouth College are working together in hopes of soon making the area more accessible, while at the same time ensuring the safety of the environment.

Real estate personnel from Dartmouth, which owns more than 1,800 acres in the area, have held a series of meetings with UVMBA president Brian Riordan in hopes of establishing a partnership that would lead to more control as well as further recreational use on the property . A sanctioned chapter of the nonprofit Vermont Mountain Biking Association, UVMBA is dedicated to maintaining mountain biking trails throughout the Upper Valley, including some on Dartmouth property.

Known as the Landmark area, the acreage owned by Dartmouth abuts parcels owned by the city of Lebanon and DHMC, as well as a 253-acre easement maintained by the Hanover Conservation Commission.

Traditionally used for activities ranging from hunting to hiking to rock climbing and, more recently, trail running and mountain biking, the Landmark area includes the Boston Lot Lake reservoir, a defunct granite quarry and hills known as Burnt Mountain, Indian Ridge and Kraft’s Hill.

Entry points include the parking lot entrance to Boston Lot across from Wilder Dam, an access point behind West Lebanon’s Sachem Village neighborhood, and an area behind a large parking lot on Mascoma Street, across from the Valley and Sacred Heart cemeteries. DHMC also provides access to its portion of the network.

Dartmouth Associate Director of Real Estate Tim McNamara, a West Lebanon native, understands the value of the land — both for recreation and wildlife habitat — and called the recent meetings with Riordan “the potential for a great partnership.”

More than 40 miles of multi-use trails, marked and unmarked, exist within the entire network.

“How many other cities have such diverse terrain, right in the middle of the city?” said McNamara. “It connects so many places. You’ve got Hanover to the north, Route 120 and everything that goes on there to the east and residential neighborhoods to the south and west. It’s an area that a lot of people have cherished for a long time, and we understand that.”

Begun about 15 years ago by a handful of area mountain biking enthusiasts, UVMBA has grown substantially over the last several years, Riordan said. The group now has about 230 members registered on online platforms, many of whom meet friends for weekly rides on area networks. UVMBA volunteers have recently enhanced trails at the Blue Ribbon network near Norwich’s Gile Mountain and Lebanon’s Goodwin Forest, behind Storrs Hill Ski Area.

Riordan hopes future trail enhancements in the Landmark area will be authorized through its envisioned partnership with Dartmouth.

“We want to cut down on rogue trails,” the fourth-year UVMBA president said. “Over the last 2 1/2-3 years, mountain biking has really grown in this area, and a lot of people are putting their own time and money into trail improvements. They don’t get (reimbursed) unless somebody knows it was them who did it and gives them $20, or something like that, in the parking lot after a ride.

“We’d much rather be more organized about it.”

In an envisioned partnership with Dartmouth, mountain bike riders would be covered by UVMBA insurance while riding on trails owned by the school, through either a long-term lease or memorandum of understanding. Such an agreement would put his organization on the path toward applying for grants for infrastructure improvements and landscape rehabilitation, Riordan said.

McNamara hopes the area will also one day be used by members of the Dartmouth Mountain Bike Club, a student-run organization that today primarily uses trails adjacent to campus such as the Oak Hill network.

But prior to that, the area would have to be surveyed for potential impact on wildlife habitat, plus sensitive riparian and plant life.

“We’d want to make sure we had a mechanism in place to make sure (trail access and maintenance) would be conducted responsibly and safely, with minimal environmental disruption,” McNamara said. “We wouldn’t want trails to extend across areas that are valuable for wildlife habitat, such as den areas for bears or areas where rare plants are identified. There are also areas that have rare geological features that we wouldn’t want to disrupt. So we’d want to (conduct) an inventory and do all of that research because it’s really important to protect those resources.”

While talks with Riordon are still preliminary in determining the breadth and scope for a potential partnership, both parties are aspiring toward progress.

McNamara, 57, knows first-hand about how much value the land holds for area residents. While growing up in West Lebanon, he regularly hiked around Boston Lot Lake and continues to use part of the land for snowshoeing.

“There are a lot of great trails out there and it’s a tremendous resource,” he said. “We’d like to see them (used more widely), but we just have to make sure we’re responsible and safe about it.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.