Coming from eastern Pennsylvania, my first impression of the Monadnock region was that it was just loaded with public land waiting to be biked through or hiked on. I had been accustomed to biking around the shorelines of mountain lakes and through an overwhelming system of state parks, preserves, and gamelands, and my new home certainly was blessed with forested mountains and lakes. Then I found out that some of the most promising land was seemingly off limits; Mount Monadnock doesn't allow bikes, Pisgah State Park limits their use, and all of the lakes I visited were surrounded by private property, not trails. Fortunately, a core of friends and the good people at NEMBA helped me find the trails that exist in the region, though I still feel they seem kind of secret. Striving to reach this public need, Stonewall Farm, (a nonprofit educational farm in Keene, NH and where I spend my days), has begun a program that will fill a major gap by providing terrain for both experienced bikers and those who are interested in learning the sport .
Stonewall Farm has recently collaborated with Root 66 race organizers, NEMBA, and local mountain bike enthusiasts to establish an interesting new trail system in the Monadnock region. The initiative has been mutually beneficial, offering a wonderful new course to the region's bikers while allowing the Farm an opportunity to support its mission and attract more visitors.
Stonewall Farm has for years hosted Bike for Bovines each July, as part of the Root 66 Northeast XC Race Series. The popular race typically draws riders from across New England, but for many years its course traversed private property surrounding the farm, requiring new permissions every year and putting the race's future longevity in question. Its sustainability relied on a solution that would situate the race entirely on Stonewall Farm's property. Bikers from the Monadnock region, including members of the Brattleboro-Keene NEMBA chapter and local race teams, always took part in the Bike for Bovines event. Perhaps they noticed the forested terrain and saw in Stonewall Farm a land of opportunity in the mountain biking world. With over 125 acres of land, (much of it forested, untrailed, and situated just off the Rail Trail), the farm would be a perfect haven for the mountain biking community, if only there were a better track on which to ride.
In early 2012, that all changed. In collaboration with Root 66 organizers and due, in particular, to the enthusiasm of Steve Riccio and Chris Logan, plans began to formulate. What began as a fantasy of trails soon became reality. Several fervent bikers not only broke ground but, over the course of a few months, cleared a 4-mile loop of single-track trail which traversed much of Stonewall Farm's untapped forest.
What's unique about the track is its density of features, packed into a relatively short course. Although it does not have large climbs or sweeping descents, it takes full advantage of the hillsides surrounding the farm. Because the farm is situated on 300-year-old pastureland that is now forested, many of the typical New England rocks and obstacles are not there. The course is smooth and fast, with tight turns and snappy switchbacks. It does contain some challenging technical sections where riders need to clear old stone walls or dry creek beds, and it has a few steep rollovers. Most of all, it is physically demanding of its riders, offering continuous undulations with few downhill breaks.
Upon the completion of the project, word quickly spread. The 2012 Bike for Bovines event represented somewhat of an inauguration, as hundreds of bikers were introduced to the new network of trails, a challenging course to be sure, with its relentless ups and downs, its persistent climbs, and its unceasing physical demand. This track was not for the faint of heart. But it was, for the mountain bike enthusiast, a perfect playground for riding.
Since the construction of the original four-mile track, several new trails have been added. Recently, and still ongoing, has been the installation of connector trails, giving visitors the option of returning to the parking lot without committing to the full four-mile loop. This feature makes the trails more accessible to walkers, since a four-mile loop is not quite so painless on foot. Hikers have the option, several times along the loop, of heading back for that irresistible ice cream in the farm stand. The loops also serve another purpose, consistent with the farm's mission as an educational facility that connects people to the land: the connector trails and other terrain features are meant to encourage beginner bikers to learn how to ride single track. Young riders can often avoid the more technical terrain by choosing an alternate path, deciding in each case whether they're ready for the more advanced options. Steve Riccio has been visionary in creating these alternate routes in addition to designing and continuing to build new trails.
The Brattleboro-Keene chapter of NEMBA has recognized the trails and has agreed to help maintain them. In return, Stonewall Farm hosts regular NEMBA chapter meetings at no cost. Mike Davern, of B-K NEMBA, created a trail map for the course, which Stonewall Farm will distribute for free to its visitors. Also in the works is the establishment of signage, a crucial component of any trail network. Peter Poanessa, owner of Keene Sign Worx and a member of B-K NEMBA, is currently creating the trail signs, which will be mounted this spring.
I'm excited, both personally and professionally, about the new trails at Stonewall Farm. As the Farm's Visitor Services Director, I am pleased about the role that Stonewall Farm is playing in contributing to the outdoor well-being of the Monadnock community. As the only farm in the city limits of Keene, with its goal of being an "open, productive, working landscape to benefit the entire community," this initiative couldn't be more appropriate.
--By Alan Bettler