By Curt Peterson
Killington hopes to benefit from two grants to be awarded this year, according to Recreation Commission Director Sarah Newell.
A $45,000 federal grant would fund a study focused on safety for local mountain bike trails. The Select Board approved $9,000 of required matching funds.
Newell told the Mountain Times that what’s known as the Circle Loop trail, which crosses Route 100, presents problematic short line of sight. No bike/car accidents have occurred yet, but drivers have little time to react when confronted with a cyclist crossing the highway.
Possible solutions include a crosswalk, moving the trail to a safer crossing site, a tunnel, or a bridge. The study would determine the best choice, which would facilitate funding the solution.
The second possible grant, from Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC), totals $125,000, including $25,000 of town and $25,000 of Killington Mountain Bike Club (KMBC) funds. Alpine Bikeworks is currently offering to match $2,500 in donations to help KMBC raise their portion.
“People don’t realize what we have here,” Newell said.
The grant will fund an inventory of the bike trail assets, a trail map, some system improvements, 3.4 miles of expansion, and help with tourism marketing. New trails will be a step toward connecting with Velomont, a planned state-long bike trail with hut accommodations along its route.
The funds will also provide lockers, locking bike racks, parking, restrooms and scheduled bus service at the Killington Welcome Center.
“Last year was the first year Sherburne Trails were open to cyclists in the winter,” Newell said. “We need to attract visitors. Our local economy can’t support year-round cycling.”
She estimates there are currently “hundreds of visitors per month, and thousands per year” riding the trails. The KMBC is planning to purchase additional trail counters to document traffic.
The Covid pandemic has been brought more visitors to Killington to ride.
“When parts of the country were under orders to stay home and health clubs closed to help contain the spread of the coronavirus,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “many fitness-starved Americans turned to cycling for outdoor exercise, triggering a bike shortage.”
Bikes are big business — in 2017, more than $4 billion worth of bikes were sold in the U.S.
Newell said a cyclist can buy a very basic mountain bike for $400, but some run close to $10,000, plus expensive special saddles, grips, helmets and gear.
Long-time mountain bike tourist Jack Schroeder told the Mountain Times he agrees that road-crossings can be dangerous, but he considers “falling” the primary risk.
“Falling is my biggest fear while flying down unfamiliar trails,” Schroeder said. “Falling while mountain biking has caused most of my bike injuries.”
Sarah Newell said Killington’s trails, which are rated from “Easy” to “Technically Difficult,” were designed by two firms, Sinuousity: Flowing Trails, and Lepesqueur & Daughters, with riding safety for beginners or intermediate riders in mind.
“Both trail builders have years of experience and excellent craftsmanship,” she said.
Enthusiasts can do “downhill biking” at Killington Bike Park, part of the resort, when there’s no snow, riding lifts up the slopes for a thrilling ride down.
Winter doesn’t dampen true zeal for two-wheeled woodsiness. The “fat bike” is built for riding with the added excitement of snow. As the name indicates, fat bikes have very wide, studded tires.
Killington’s local bike shops, including Base Camp, Alpine Bikeworks, First Stop Board Barn and Basin Sports sponsor plowing of the bike trails for winter use.
The Killington Mountain Bike Club, with 312 members, is very active, hosting trail days when volunteers to do maintenance, and managing the capital campaign to raise funds for the VOREC grant.
Ben Colona, owner of Base Camp and president of KMBC, a mountain biker and downhill rider since 2009, told the Mountain Times, “I have biked all over the country and feel we are spoiled in Vermont. The trails in Killington have a lot of variety — each has fun and progressive beginner terrain, followed by fast and flowy intermediate and expert terrain.”
“Without the club’s hard work and fundraising events,” Newell said, “we wouldn’t have this trail building progress.”
Besides serving as director of the five-member recreation commission, she is KMBC’s secretary.
“[We are] very fortunate to have a community like Killington and surrounding towns who support the club as much as they do,” Colona said.