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The Winnick Wander - Cape Elizabeth, Maine

A Vision - Trail Riding For All Abilities

Wright, an avid mountain biker, has been been toying with the idea of a trail project in Winnick Woods, his local trail system. A system of trails that includes portions designed and built to allow a greater number of people to get out and enjoy them is a benefit to any area. While the Winnick Woods trail system is quite extensive, many of the trails suffer from severe erosion and are not accommodating to many novice riders because the technical skills needed to ride them. “Winnick Woods is located in such a great spot and could allow so many folks from Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Portland and the surrounding areas to get out and experience mountain biking. For many novice riders, the technical trail features - lots of exposed rocks and roots caused by years of erosion - make riding the trails too difficult to negotiate. And in many cases, discourages them from giving the sport a fair shake”, says Wright. “Using modern machine-built trail building techniques, we were able to design and build a trail that allows novice riders with minimal skills or experience to ride the trail and immediately have a great mountain bike experience and start building skills and confidence. The trail’s smoother surface and moderated grades also allows parents to bring their kids out riding a typical child’s bike - even run bikes! Intermediate and expert riders can come and enjoy a “flowy” fun ride.”

Next Steps in Winnick Woods

Work on a section of new trail is slated to begin in the middle of August 2018. Wright and Tasse hope these initial trail building and rehabilitation projects in Winnick Woods are just the beginning of a greater trail project in that location. Feedback so far is overwhelmingly positive. “I really hope that the Town of Cape Elizabeth sees the benefits of having trails and a larger system of trails like this here, and gets behind us doing more”, Wright says. “Then, who knows. Other towns might see the success we have here and want to start their own projects”.

Why machine-built trails?

The practice of using machines to build trails for mountain biking has grown in popularity in the last decade and is currently the preferred and most commonly used method. Locations like The Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vermont, the Town of Stowe and Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont have utilized these techniques to improve the trail riding experience and make mountain biking accessible to a wider range of abilities. These areas see seasoned as well as trail-curious new riders taking advantage of the “buff” trail conditions.

The Process

Remove the topsoil down to the “mineral soil” is the first step.  The mineral soil is a hard layer of soil below the topsoil that contains very little organic materials. The trail is graded to expose the root structures. Machines play a big role in this step. Moving large amounts of dirt, larger rocks and other debris is more efficient and less time consuming for a hydraulically driven backhoe.

Removal of the root structure. The root structure must be removed to be able to grade the trail. This can be done by machines as well, but in some instances, it is done by volunteers with loppers to save cost on machine time. After the roots are removed some of the topsoil can be put back into the trail bed to help it blend into the environment.

Compact the trail surface and perform final grading. The process of compacting the trail surface into a hard, durable surface can be done by machines or by hand. During this step it is important that the grading and sloping of the trails be done to promote proper drainage to direct water off the trail and prevent extending runs of water and pooling during heavy rains. Then, local materials that were removed and set aside during the initial step can be use to feather the edges of the trail back into the environment and make things look immediately more natural. After a season or two of use and weather the trail will naturally blend and look like it has been there for decades.

Jim Tasse and the great bunch of volunteer students from Cape Elizabeth High School. Photo: Jamie Wright