An old ski town finds new life as a mountain biking destination by gjjur4356


									                                                                  John Worth, a founder of Kingdom
                                                                  Trails and owner of East Burke Sports

             Getting inGear
            An old ski town
            finds new life as a   Visit East BurkE         any day this autumn, and

                                  you’ll find the village full of mountain bikers, muddy and
            mountain biking
                                  sometimes even a bit bloody from a hard ride.
                                    The bikers’ energy and excitement give the Kingdom

                                  Trails parking lot an “alive” feeling, like a tamed-down

                                  version of a rock concert tailgate party. The ages of the

                                  bikers vary as much as the license plates in the lot, as

                                  does the technical level of the gear. (Some are here on

                                  garage-sale bikes while others are souped up with only                  Tim Tierney, executive director
                                                                                                          of Kingdom Trails Association
                                  the latest and greatest equipment.)
              By Sky Barsch
                                    Riders stretch, check out their gear, and trade stories
              Photographed by
           Jeb Wallace-Brodeur    from the trails. The backs of SUVs are makeshift seats;

                                  car stereos provide the audio, and Clif Bars and Gu

                                  packs are the cuisine.

                                                                                                                                            View of Mount Pisgah
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                                                                              But 25 years ago, things looked differ-        first bikers in the area were rugged, super-
                                                                           ent here. While East Burke was happening          outdoorsy types who preferred camping. But
                                                                           in the winter — thanks to downhill skiers         as mountain biking began to catch on with
                                                                           at Burke Mountain and snowmobilers —              young professionals and families, the inns be-
                                                                           there wasn’t much going on once the snow          gan to benefit. “Eight or so years ago, they
                                                                           melted. A few hikers and leaf peepers, but        started staying at the inn,” says O’Reilly of
                                                                           nothing much to sustain the nonwinter             Wildflower Inn. “It’s really great right now,
                                                                           tourism economy.                                  because it really is what’s keeping the tour-
                                                                              “It was definitely a winter town,” says        ism economy going up here.”                                                                                  Bailey’s & Burke deli and gift store
                                                                           Jim O’Reilly, who, along with his wife Mary,         O’Reilly, who also owns the LynBurke

                                                                                                                                                                              Community eats
                                                                           opened the elegant Wildflower Inn in 1985.        Motel in nearby Lyndonville, points out
                                                                           “When we first came, everything was win-          what is evident by scanning the license
                                                                           ter-geared, and we wondered what the heck         plates in town: Many of the bikers are from
                                                                           we were going to do in the summertime.”           Quebec. In fact, in the East Burke Sports
                                                                              Around 1987, Vermont Hiking Holidays
                                                                                                                                                                              When you’ve had your fill of Clif Bars and Gu packs, head to
                                                                                                                             parking lot and on the trails, English is just
                                                                           discovered the area and brought hikers.           one of the languages heard. He said two-         l   Bailey’s & Burke, a deli and gift store smack in the center of town.
                                                                           Road bicycling tours also began to filter into    thirds of his biking guests are Canadian and         Hungry bikers often fuel up inside and take a break on outdoor
                                                                           the village, located on Route 114 in the sce-     one-third American. “It’s French and span-           benches, where it’s easy to get into a friendly conversation with a fel-
                                                                           nic Northeast Kingdom.                            dex,” O’Reilly jokes of East Burke.                  low rider.
                                                                              Then, in 1988, John Worth, owner of East          The Kingdom Trails Association esti-                 Billy Turner and his son-in-law, Jody Fried, opened Bailey’s & Burke in
                                                                           Burke Sports shop, started building moun-         mates that there were 32,000 visits in 2008          the late ’90s. At the time, skiers and snowmobilers kept the store hum-
                                                                           tain bike trails. He saw the potential for an     to its trail network. At $50 for a season’s          ming, but now “mountain biking is huge and has helped us out a lot. ... I
                                                                           expansive trail system, but needed permis-        pass, and $10 for a day pass, the trails are         would say our winter was bigger than the summer, but now I’d say it’s
                                                                           sion from more landowners and help with           accessible for many incomes.                         the other way around,” says Turner.
                                                                           paperwork and legal issues. The late Doug            For Worth and others in East Burke, it’s      l   River Garden Café, an upbeat eatery situated next to East Burke
                                                                           Kitchel, former owner of Burke Mountain           been an exhilarating ride. “I hoped it would         Sports. Founded in 1992, the café — well-known among foodies — was
                                                                           ski area and a former state legislator, knew      become what it is now,” he says, “but I didn’t       recently purchased by Ann Lachance and Nick Ouellette. The pair had

     Bike buzz
                                                                           how to get things done. He got more per-          think it would happen this quick.”                   been employees of the café for more than a decade and, after a flood
                                                                           mission from landowners.                             Tim Tierney, executive director of King-          on the premises left the original owners too discouraged to continue,
                                                                              In 1994, a group of local citizens found-      dom Trails, said the association is dedicated        Lachance and Ouellette decided to buy the café and keep it going as
     The Kingdom Trails network has put itself firmly on the national      ed the nonprofit Kingdom Trails Associa-          to responsible growth that benefits riders,          part of the community.
     mountain biking map, with Bike magazine readers recently nam-         tion, and the transformation of East Burke        locals and the area’s natural resources. The            “There’s people that come here every year that we’ve seen grow up,”
     ing it the best trail network in North America. One of the trails,    clicked into high gear.                           number of visitors to the trails is increas-         Lachance says. “The whole atmosphere of East Burke — everybody’s
     the advanced “Sidewinder,” was also voted the trail with the             Led by Worth, mountain bikers built doz-       ing about 20 percent each year, and there is         friendly, everybody’s happy, we couldn’t
     best flow.                                                            ens of miles of trails on a combination of        no plan to try to push beyond that. Instead,         see losing all of that. The other portion
        Brice Minnigh, managing editor of the Southern California–         state and private land. (Strikingly, most of      Kingdom Trails supports mountain biking              was (if the restaurant closed) that was
     based magazine, says most people who are serious about moun-          the land was private; 60 contiguous land-         growth statewide.                                    14 people without jobs.”
     tain biking have heard of the Kingdom Trails, and those who live      owners agreed to the building of the trails.)        “Who knows?” he says, pondering the                  Lachance says that recently some
     on the East Coast have ridden there.                                  The trails were carefully planned and de-         future of the trail system. “As it grows, we         travelers came into the café who were
        “The thing about the Kingdom Trails is that it is a different      signed, and once built, well-maintained. The      want to connect more villages, to connect            anxious about getting a table where
     experience altogether,” Minnigh says. “You’re going fast and          network grew into more than 100 miles of          to West Burke. We try to help out moun-              they could keep an eye on their bikes.
     flowy and swoopy. It almost has a feel of kind of like a bike park,   trails, which today are regarded as some of       tain biking in Vermont and in the area,                 “I tried to tell them it’s not like that
     but without the stunts.”                                              the best in the country.                          knowing Vermont will become a mountain               here,” she says. “Nobody’s going to
        Minnigh says the Kingdom Trails also stand out because of             In the early days of mountain biking in East   biking destination. We’re not looking at it          take your bike. If somebody’s in trou-
     the community involvement. “Locals have allowed trail building        Burke, the upscale inns (Inn at Mountain View     as competition. We know what we have is              ble, people just stop and help you.”
     on their land, and locals have been very cooperative,” he says.       farm is nearby) didn’t see much business. The     good, and what they have is good, too.” A
                                                                                                                                                                                                                             River Garden Café owners
     “That’s something you don’t get everywhere.”                                                                                                                                                                            Nick Ouellette and Ann Lachance

30   •   vermont life                                                                                                                                                                                                              autumn 2009                  •   31

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