Winslow & Ray Roads, Dunbarton NH
The "Hop-Ev" recreation area is over 8,000 acres and offers advanced intermediate to expert terrain with nearly 20 miles of trails. Hopkinton-Everett is one of many State properties managed by the New Hampshire Trails Bureau. Reminder: Be prepared for other trail users, this is a multi-use trsil system and is open to ATV's, trailbikes, hikers, and equestrians, too.
I'd put forty minutes into the January ride, leaving from the OHRV (Off-highway Recreational Vehicle) parking area via the Sugar Hill Loop. The temp read low forties and the corn snow gave that steamy, humid, "everything is melting" feel to the woods. Even after a couple warm and rainy winter days, the trails this clear afternoon made an easy ride. Credit that to the snowmobile and ATV traffic that had packed things nicely for this lone, odd mountain biker in the woods.
I'd been on my backside twice already, one of those times very nearly in the middle of an ice-bottomed puddle. Sure, it was warm for January, but getting soaked still would have cut short the 10 mile loop I'd planned to retrace from my book, Mountain Bike America: New Hampshire and Maine . I wanted to revisit a ride that was good in winter, and in my experience, that meant finding packed snow. For exactly that reason, New Hampshire's Hopkinton-Everett Multi-use Trail System (Hop-Ev) proved a great choice.
Less than 15 minutes outside Concord , NH and the interchange of Interstates 89 and 93 sits this gem of a riding spot. The property is owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers and is sometimes called Hop-Ev Reservoir, though it isn't a drinking water reservoir. It's a dry reservoir, managed by the Army Corps for controlling flooding in the Merrimack River Valley. Via a partnership agreement, the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails manages the 30 or so miles of multi-use roads, double-track and prime singletrack on the property.
Eastern Fat Tire Association (EFTA) President Denis Laliberte has more history with Hop-Ev than perhaps anyone. He's one of the founding fathers of the network and knows it as the true success story it is.
"This property was a dumping ground (in the mid-eighties)," Laliberte remembers. "It was a junkyard. Party spot. Total chaos without trails, just a lot of dead ends, driveways and old logging roads."
An unmanaged mess is the way the State and the Army Corps remember it as well. Laliberte's dirt bike club, the Merrimack Valley Trail Riders (MVTR), worked with the State to lay out trails for yearly events. The energy of a responsible partner in MVTR combined with the Army Corps' need to manage use on the property and the State's desire to site an OHRV network in the southern part of New Hampshire. This perfect storm of needs and partnerships created the trail network mountain bikers enjoy today as well.
"The system remains much the same as what MVTR laid out in the beginning," agrees Laliberte. "With EFTA, we ran the Second Start (mountain-bike) Enduro on those trails for 13 years."
While Hop-Ev remains predominately an OHRV riding area —and MVTR remains its most active trail partner— NEMBA's Central New Hampshire chapter is also riding and doing work there. Writing as a NEMBA member who both motors and pedals, it's easy to see why. New England mountain bikers and dirt bikers like the same stuff-tight technical singletrack. That's what Hop-Ev offers in spades. It also offers miles of smooth gravel road suitable for sharing with beginner or less skilled riding partners in the warm months. Riders can advance from there to the ATV trails as skill and fitness increase, then tackle the dirt bike trails for the most challenge. In winter, roads like Choate Brook and Bassett Mill double as a great introduction to snow and ice riding for experienced mountain bikers who don't yet know what hills, corners, traction and braking feel like on the white stuff.
The thing I hate most for winter rides are long descents and obstacles likes rocks poking up in the middle of the trail. Hop-Ev doesn't worry me in this regard. The landscape offers lots of short, steep climbs, but no long ones. The trails, while root-strewn in places, aren't nearly as rocky as traditional New England singletrack, leaving lots of clear, quick descents into smooth, bermed turns. Using the ATV grooves in the snow makes it sinfully easy to rail a sketchy turn and hit the next uphill with momentum. Hop-Ev is a middle ring pedal-fest summer or winter.
I got about half my January attempt to retrace the route from my book done. As mentioned, I followed the Sugar Hill Loop out, but 200 yards from its end at Bassett Mill Road I got stopped cold, literally. Choate Brook stood in my way and it flowed fast, deep and wide from the snowmelt and rain. There is no bridge and water submerged all the big rocks. Many trails at Hop-Ev are designated one-way for rider safety, but I was the only one using Sugar Hill it seemed, so I could have doubled back and found a cut that joined the rest of my loop. Or, I might have had to ride all the way back to the parking lot, the wrong way on the trail I just came out on. I got about 15 feet into doing that, then felt the shame settle in. I turned around and charged the stream. If I fell, I'd be frozen for the 15 minute ride back to the car. If I cleaned Choate Brook, just my feet would be frozen. The water filled my shoes and my legs responded with a jolt. I got to the far bank upright, railed a corner and wiped out on some ice. On my ass for the third time that day.
I jogged the bike up to Bassett Mill Road and found the packed snow and ice surface exceptional. There were no soft spots for the wheels to drop into and even the small climb after turning onto Choate Brook Road offered great traction. Two ATV riders approached from the opposite direction as I huffed and puffed my post-Christmas largeness up the hill. They weren't Satan's spawn, as some people like to stereotype. It was the middle-aged guy and his wife who I'd seen heading out from the parking lot. We exchanged thumbs-up. This is the typical interaction on a multi-use network, where riders are sharing their rights to public land. EFTA's Laliberte notes after more than a decade of running the Second Start Enduro for mountain bikers and charity, "We had hunters, dog walkers, dirt bike riders, ATVs and mountain bike racers out there all at once. That intensity of use was the exception, yet still, conflicts were few and far between. There's room for everybody. It comes down to awareness of and respect for one another. In the end, we all just want to ride."
I agree, and Hop-Ev is the place to do it, come snow or summer sun.
Take Interstate 89 north from it's junction with Interstate 93 in Concord , NH . Take Exit 2 and turn left onto Route 13 south. Turn left at the junction with Route 77 (blinking light). After about 1 mile, turn right at the country store onto Winslow Road . Follow Winslow .6 miles and turn right at the sign for OHRV parking.
Hop-Ev closed to MTBs and OHRVs: End of continuous snow-cover until May 23rd.
By Robert Fitzhenry
Author of MTB America: New Hampshire and Maine
To buy “MTB America: New Hampshire and Maine" check www.amazon.com, the LLBean Freeport store, or local bike and book shops in New Hampshire and Maine.