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Fat Bike Access Expanded in Parks

Cyclists on fat bikes. Photo courtesy of Onion River Outdoors.
With some self-imposed restrictions, an array of new trail signs, and a strategy to provide trail walkers free access to snowshoes, cyclists have won approval for expanded winter trail use in city parks. The extensively documented proposal from the Montpelier Area Mountain Bike Association (MAMBA) to expand trail access in city parks for fat bikes during the winter season was approved by the Parks Commission on December 17.

While bikes have been allowed on the roads in Hubbard Park and the bike trails in North Branch Park that were created in collaboration with MAMBA in the early 2000s, the growing popularity of snow-riding on fat bikes has increased demand for trail access—and concerns about conflicts with those who use the trails for walking and skiing.

The Parks Department began grooming snow-covered multiple-use winter trails more than a decade ago to provide better traction for walking and smoother surfaces for skiing. But skiers often find neatly set ski tracks are trampled by walkers who may not understand what the tracks are for. New Parks Director Alec Ellsworth said a key responsibility of his job is to make the park experience enjoyable for each activity.

The effort to minimize conflicts among users is at the center of the MAMBA collaboration. Trail signage developed by MAMBA and printed by the city instructs bike riders to yield right-of-way to walkers and skiers, and for walkers to give right-of-way to skiers, MAMBA member Jill Olsen said. Other signs encourage walkers to use snowshoes to minimize post-holing from footprints, and bikers to underinflate their tires to avoid creating ruts in the trail surface. Biking when snow is soft is also discouraged; not only is it difficult, but damage to the trail can be severe.

A multi-year fundraising effort by MAMBA has successfully raised more than $114,000 through matching grants and contributions from businesses and individuals. Work on the North Branch Trail Initiative began last summer and will continue this year, according to MAMBA President Nolan Langweil. (For details about the trail and current maps, see bikemamba.org/trails/)

To minimize the damage potential from footprints in soft snow, Onion River Outdoors (ORO) is offering the use of rental snowshoes for North Branch Park free of charge for up to four hours. Onion River’s Kip Roberts, an avid cyclist, noted that a few passes of snowshoers along a trail can improve the surface for fat bikes. Roberts said snowshoes are available at the shop on Langdon Street. Additionally, Roberts and Ellsworth are working together to make snowshoes available at strategic trailheads in Hubbard and North Branch parks.

Cyclists on the west side of town can now connect from Hubbard Park roads, where bikes are already allowed, to North Branch via the trail at the top of Seven Fireplaces and the Parks Connector.

“This is so much better than having to ride through the salt downtown or to drive to get to North Branch,” said fat-bike rider Tim Flynn, whose home is on the southwest corner of Hubbard Park.