On the Right Track in Saratoga Springs, NY
The Saratoga Springs area, with its natural mineral springs and a world-famous horse racetrack, has plenty to draw folks from miles around. As tends to happen with such destinations, we’d bet that most locals have never experienced either of these attractions that are right in their back yards. For the group of locals with whom we hung out this past weekend, the local mountain bike trails are where the appeal lies.
We were hosted by the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association (SMBA) as part of their effort to engage the mountain biking community and land managers in the greater Capital District.
SMBA is in a unique position in that their club has historically revolved almost exclusively around a private trail network that sits on about 500 acres that the club leases from the Nature Conservancy. Membership dues go in large part toward paying the lease and insurance for the club to ride there. As a result, anyone who isn’t interested in riding that particular trail system may not feel they’d get anything out of a SMBA membership.
Well, this arrangement is slated to change when the conservancy sells that land to the state, at which point the SMBA trails will become state forest land. The upside is that the club will no longer have to pay to ride there. The downside is that the club finds itself wondering how to keep itself relevant when the pay-to-play scenario becomes moot. Fortunately, SMBA has some forward-thinking individuals at the helm, including their VP Jim Mitchell, who was the main organizer of the Trail Care Crew visit.
Jim and the rest of the SMBA leadership are looking for ways to offer value to the greater mountain biking community, keep their club relevant, and expand riding opportunities in the area. They have been moving in the right direction by engaging land managers in multiple agencies, including the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation (OPRHP), the City of Schenectady, and representatives from Skidmore College, who owns land directly abutting the existing SMBA trails.
Members from all four of these groups attended a land manager training session over the weekend to learn about sustainable trail design and user management. It was a great day of information exchange and dialogue, which promises to lead to good things in the coming months.
SMBA also recently entered into an Adopt-A-Natural-Resource (AANR) agreement with the DEC to become stewards of Pittstown State Forest land, which has not seen any official maintenance in over four years. SMBA’s first contribution was just this past Thursday, when they helped remove 170 tires that had been illegally dumped on the property. The DEC approved a new section of trail to reroute an existing service road that is badly rutted but is currently the only way from the parking lot to the trailhead. Our project for the weekend was to cut in part of that new trail.
Thirty-four volunteers, comprised of SMBA members, the forest ranger, four folks from OPRHP, and others, rolled up their sleeves and cut in over 400 feet of brand new bench cut trail and a rock-reinforced bermed turn. Everyone was stoked with the results and the overall trail that would be taking shape in the coming months. The new trail will offer a smoother, flowier contrast to the adjacent steep and rocky trail, giving visitors to Pittstown a little bit of everything to suit their fancy. Thanks to organization, foresight, and proactivity, SMBA is out of the gates with a great start!
Additional photos taken by Chris Morris of SMBA can be viewed here
Additional photos taken by Jennifer Harvey of SMBA can be viewed here