With six miles of new trails, the Katahdin area is becoming a mountain biking mecca
Miles of new trails specifically designed for mountain biking have opened in the Katahdin region this summer, with plans for more biking trails to be added over the next few years.
These trails include six miles of single-track trails on Hammond Ridge, a wooded ridgeline just north of Millinocket. Built over the past three years by Katahdin Area Trails, a nonprofit organization, this trail system officially opened to the public in June.
“In the long run we hope to build 30-50 miles of [biking] trails outside of Millinocket, and then another whole collection of trails inside Millinocket, and then in a perfect world, a trail that connects the two,” said Matt Polstein, executive director of Katahdin Area Trails and owner of the New England Outdoor Center.
To support future trail building, Katahdin Area Trails recently received a $250,000 grant through the Northern Border Regional Commission’s State Economic and Infrastructure Grants, as well as a $75,000 grant from Penobscot County. The funding will be used to expand the network on Hammond Ridge, adding approximately nine miles of biking trails, as well as a bike-only “gravity park.”
“[The gravity park] is going to be long easy uphills with faster downhills,” Polstein explained. “That’s something we’ll be doing probably starting next summer.”
Katahdin Area Trails is required to provide a match of $111,901 to the project. This funding comes from money earned from contract work by the organization on other projects, donations, additional grants, and cash and in-kind support from New England Outdoor Center, Polstein said.
The new Katahdin Area Trails
The Katahdin Area Trails network on Hammond Ridge features a 5-mile loop trail designed for beginner mountain bikers. Surfaced with locally-sourced crushed shale mixed with hardpan soil, the trail is single track, measuring between 3 and 4 feet wide, and weaves through a beautiful forest.
The network also features about a mile of slightly more challenging single track, which will be expanded in the future. These trails cross wider ski trails, which are also open to bikes.
“We tried to make this something that someone just getting into mountain biking can ride and feel good about,” Polstein said. “Don’t worry. There are plans ahead to let you jump off rocks and cliffs, and we do have some narrower bridges here.”
The trail network is accessible from the New England Outdoor Center and River Drivers Restaurant, which are located just north off Millinocket in T1 R8 WELS. At the facility, fat tire bikes are available to rent for $60 a day, $40 for half the day or $15 an hour.
The trails were designed by the International Mountain Bike Association to be environmentally and economically sustainable, with carefully planned drainage structures that prevent eroding and the collection of water. Construction was overseen by local mountain bike trail expert Josh Tauses, who is the force behind the vast network of mountain bike trails in Carrabassett Valley.
“These new biking trails have the potential to make a big difference in the economic vitality of the Millinocket Area,” said Tauses in a prepared statement. “Ten years ago, it was a small crowd of people who came to Carrabassett Valley in the summertime. Today, restaurants are starting to see customers year-round, visitors are coming to the trail center, and families are moving here — it’s not just for wintertime anymore.”
Established in 2014, Katahdin Area Trails has spent approximately $600,000 (in cash and in-kind support of labor, equipment and materials) over the past few years to build the 6 miles of bike trails on Hammond Ridge, as well as 10 miles of ski trails and 2 miles of snowmobile trails.
This trail work was funded by grants issued by the Elmina B. Sewell Foundation, The Quimby Family Foundation and the Maine Community Foundation, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. In addition, cash and in-kind contributions were donated by New England Outdoor Center and Hammond Ridge LLC, which was formed by Polstein to own land around Hammond Ridge.
Hammond Ridge LLC is in the process of providing a 20-year lease to Katahdin Area Trails, a requirement of the Northern Border Regional Commission that protects the value of the public investment (the trail system) and the public’s access to it.
In addition, AmeriCorps NCCC volunteer groups contributed trail building, an estimated value of $20,000, and Sargent Corporation supported the ski and snowmobile trail network with below market rates.
“We had .75 miles of a 5-mile loop we needed to finish this spring,” Polstein said. “It was the hardest, rockiest steepest part, and we had an Americorps volunteer group come help us and we handbuilt most of that. It was too steep to put machinery on. And they did a great job helping us in May, right in the thickest part of the blackfly season. They were good sports about it.”
Other biking opportunities in the region
Penobscot River Trails near Medway opened to the public for the first time this year. The facility, created by philanthropist Gilbert Butler, features more than 15 miles of intersecting carriage-style trails that are open to bicyclists. The privately owned 5,000-acre preserve is located on the East Branch of the Penobscot River, and long sections of the trails trace the shore.
“We are excited to be able to open the biking trails and a small hand-carry boat launch to visitors this summer,” said Valerie Locke, manager of The Penobscot River Trails, in a prepared statement.
The trails are free and open to the public throughout the summer and fall, and will re-open in winter for cross-country skiing. The entrance to the Penobscot River Trails is located off Route 11 (Grindstone Road) about 12 miles north of the I-95 Medway exit.
And in the nearby Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, miles of historic logging roads are open to bicycles. These old roads lead to campsites, picnic areas and landmarks, including Barnard Mountain (where you can park your bike to explore a short hiking trail to the summit), Orin Falls on Wassataquoik Stream, and Stair Falls and Grand Pitch on the East Branch of the Penobscot River. Many of these logging roads are closed to vehicle traffic, giving bicyclists plenty of room to ride.
“We think the Katahdin region is the destination place everybody should visit, and there are some incredible assets here now,” Polstein said. “The West Branch of the Penobscot, Baxter State Park, the new National Monument, Katahdin. And we wanted to add to it, so we started building bike trails because we know there’s a rage of interest in bike trails.”
Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, echoed this sentiment in a prepared statement about the new trails.
“Maine’s natural resources are unrivaled in the Northeastern U.S.,” Lyons said. “The addition of these new trails opens up even more recreational opportunities that will help drive visitation and bolster economic activity in the Katahdin Region.”