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Thetford Academy adds to inventory of Upper Valley mountain bike trails

  • Faith Crowe, 15, of Post Mills, center, removes rocks and loose roots as her Thetford Academy classmates rake a berm during construction of a one-mile mountain bike loop on the school's grounds in Thetford, Vt., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. The trail will fill a need for legal bike trails in the town, which has an active community of mountain bikers. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Maddie Hatch, 15, of Topsham, cuts a sapling out of the path of a beginner level mountain bike trail being built by Thetford Academy students in Thetford, Vt., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. There will be a kickoff event on October 19 to introduce the trail to riders and get feedback for improvement and future trails. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Alex Emerson, 17, adjusts his helmet and safety glasses while building a mountain bike trail with his Thetford Academy classmates on school property in Thetford, Vt., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2019 10:02:43 PM
Modified: 10/12/2019 10:02:28 PM

While attending Thetford Academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Jonathan Wilmot propelled himself through the woods on foot, as a dedicated cross country runner.

Now that his alma mater is preparing to open a mountain-bike trail east of Academy Road, he can’t wait to test his mettle on the pedals back in the old ’hood.

And the resident expert in the sport at the Omer & Bob’s store in Lebanon is not alone in his anticipation of this addition to the inventory of trails in and around the Upper Valley.

“Here at the shop, we hear great excitement about it,” Wilmot said Friday. “I’ve heard from several people already who are really looking forward to it.”

The academy will unveil its course — a 1-mile loop “flow” trail designed for a continuous ride with minimum braking and gear-changing — on Saturday, and then open it to the public as well as to students and staff.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand from the seventh- and eighth-graders who rode on the track at Thetford Elementary when they were there,” academy Outdoor Programs Coordinator Scott Ellis said on Tuesday. “There’s a good 15 to 20 kids who are really fired up, who will do it after school all the time.”

After working on the trail as part of Ellis’ class in environmental studies and outdoor education, sophomore Maddie Hatch and senior Alex Emerson now are considering testing their own reflexes and nerve on it from time to time before heading home to Topsham, Vt.

“I haven’t ridden before,” Hatch said on Tuesday, “but it seems like something fun to try out.”

The fun ran out some years ago for Emerson, who said his first mountain bike broke “when I was little.” He hadn’t thought about trying again until taking Ellis’ class, which also engages students in activities ranging from rooting out invasive species to making cider from apples gleaned in local orchards in the fall and turning maple sap into syrup in spring.

“I guess I’m going to have to buy another (bike) now,” he said.

In addition to those enthusiastic middle-schoolers, Ellis said, many veteran bikers in the immediate area have been waiting for someplace nearby to ride legally. The network of trails in the Thetford Hill State Forest is off-limits to mountain biking, as is the academy’s renowned Dan Grossman Woods Trail, a 3.15-mile course designed for cross country runners and skiers.

“We chose this to be completely separate from the Woods Trail,” Ellis said. “We love the Woods Trail and want to keep it that way. I wouldn’t say that it’s been an issue, but when we do see mountain bikers out there, we talk to them.”

One mountain biker who knows better is Tait Linehan, a 2019 Thetford graduate who helped map out and build the trail, in concert with the Upper Valley Trails Alliance and with the project’s main contractor, the Northeast Kingdom-based OTB Trail Builders. The academy hired OTB with $5,000 from the Woodbury Foundation, which supports the school’s outdoor programs.

“We saved a lot by building the bridges and clearing the trail by hand with students in last year’s class and in the summer trail crew,” Ellis said. “Lumber for the bridges was donated by John Morton,” designer of the Grossman Woods Trail.

This trail, for which the school is informally entertaining names, provides both an addition and an alternative to the inventory of biking systems in the Upper Valley and across the Twin States.

Many of the available sanctioned trails in Vermont are connected with ski areas, such as Killington, Mount Snow, Burke Mountain, and, in the Upper Valley, Ascutney Outdoors in West Windsor and the Elemental bike park that Suicide Six opened in South Pomfret in 2018.

Beyond the slopes, the Woodstock Area Mountain Bike Association maintains a network in West Woodstock, aimed at a wide range of ages, abilities and experience, called the Aqueduct Trails. And among nearly 400 New Hampshire trails identified by the New England Mountain Biking Association are French’s Ledges in Meriden, Moody Park in Claremont, the Pinnacle in Newport and Boston Lot in West Lebanon. Most of them are rated intermediate to difficult.

In 2018, the Green Woodlands Foundation added, and opened to the public at no fee, a 50-mile network of trails on its hundreds of acres of recreational open land in Dorchester and Lyme. On the Omer & Bob’s website, Wilmot describes the new network, which Green Woodlands expects to extend another 30 miles, and which Thetford’s John Morton designed, as “a lot smoother than most area trails and are thusly very beginner-friendly, though experienced riders will enjoy the flow for sure.”

On Friday, Wilmot added that flow trails such as Thetford’s, as opposed to “pump” trails that require the rider to create momentum by yanking the bike over obstacles, also offer relatively new riders a door into the sport.

“There’s a lot of people that the more gnarly trails are a little but much for, but they still want to be outdoors,” he said. “It’s fun in a different sort of way. You go faster, can lean into turns, and there are features you can jump without really beating on yourself. And you don’t have to use as beefy a bike that has a lot more suspension. You don’t have to make quite as big an investment.”

That’s music to the ears of Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association President Brian Riordan.

“The design of the skill progression of the trail allows new riders to quickly gain confidence and explore new challenges on the next run down the hill,” Riordan wrote in an email Friday. “We hope that everyone comes out to give it a ride.”

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

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