New Singletrack Built in the Middlesex Fells

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It was with great sense of pride and victory that Greater Boston NEMBA volunteers finally created new shared-use singletrack at the Middlesex Fells Reservation.

After nearly 8 years of filing papers, engaging politicians, countering obstructionist moves by opponents and exhibiting profound patience for a lengthy process to complete, we finally put Rogue Hoes and McLeods to the dirt in the Dark Hollow Pond (DHP) section of the Fells.  The moment culminated a long-planned effort to create a sustainable route through DHP and reclaim habitat that has been seriously fragmented by a spiderweb of rogue trails.

Backstory:

Five years ago GBNEMBA was just hours away from breaking ground when the Stoneham Conservation Commission issued a claim that part of the project would impact a wetland area forcing DCR to cancel the build until the claim was resolved. The claim was later found to be without merit.

This kicked over the hornets nest in the mountain bike community and started a firestorm of advocacy efforts to address significant inequities in singletrack access at the Middlesex Fells. This is the crucible where NEMBA was formed – fighting for this access. For years, we had tried to work with the system that was in place, stay professional, take what we were given and hope for things to change for the better. The cancelation of the DHP build event showed us that the system and situation in place was seriously broken.

Taking Action

So we changed our game. We realized Einstein was right when he said that “insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” We became very public and direct. We called people out. We disputed purported facts publicly. We, of necessity, created an uncomfortable situation that demanded the trail access inequity in the Fells be addressed by the land manager, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). And we found that people started listening. We found allies we didn’t know we had. The outcome was that DCR issued a Fells Trails Plan which made some very good recommendations to address the inequity in singletrack access. We thought we were done.

But, we should have known that we weren’t. The Friends of the Fells, the local friends group for the Fells, is a vehemently anti-mountain bike organization. They demanded that DCR perform a full Resource Management Plan as required by law in an effort to delay or prevent any of DCR’s proposed trail use changes. We argued that DCR didn’t need an RMP to decide trail-use policy. DCR eventually agreed to do the RMP but that it was going to be fast-tracked. We were disappointed as we now faced a larger and longer process with unknown outcomes.

However, to DCR’s credit, they threw a huge amount of staff resources at the RMP process to make sure it moved quickly. Multiple public meetings were organized. Many stakeholder meetings were held. Data was collected. Ground-truths investigated and documented. And, about a year after announcing they were going to do the RMP, it was completed.

Guess what? It came to essentially the same conclusions about trail policy as the original Fells Trails Plan. We didn’t get everything we wanted but we got important gains in singletrack access: Orange Trail, Rock Circuit and Dark Hollow Pond trails all slated for shared-use access.

Better Trail, More Habitat

Fast forward to Sunday, April 27th, 2014. More than 25 GBNEMBA volunteers, joined by DCR staff, took on the first phase of creating a fun, well-defined, and sustainable route through DHP.  Before last Sunday, the Dark Hollow Pond Trail would have been better described as an entanglement.  A web of rogue paths branching off of both sides of over-worn and confusing routes.  By camouflaging and re-vegetating the entrances to redundant rogue trails and establishing some sections of new sustainable singletrack the crew gave the new DHP trail a fun and flowy feel, taking full advantage of lovely forest topography and features.  And bikers, hikers, dog walkers and all those who use this wonderful park will enjoy a new rock-armored ramp that NEMBA built at the trail entrance.

Many thanks are due for this effort.  The many, many NEMBA members and members of the mountain biking community who rallied together over many years to make this possible. Our trail crew members who finally got to apply their skills to a location of a great public park in desperate need of expert trail help. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation for its many great, patient staff and commitment to following through with its process. Local politicians who saw the need to help find a solution to a difficult situation and lent their time and mediation skills.  The GBNEMBA leadership who demonstrated extraordinary dedication, patience and persistence.

Dark Hollow Pond is finally real. Go ride it! Go walk it! It is a beautiful trail that belongs to all of us.

Come celebrate this victory at the Kona Bicycles MTB Adventure Ride at the Fells, Saturday, May 3rd.