The New England Mountain Bike Association was founded in 1987 and encompasses all six New England states. Now in its 35th year, NEMBA has over 8,000 members across thirty-two chapters. NEMBA’s mission is “Trails, Advocacy, Community.” NEMBA is more than just a mountain biking club, aiming to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusivity through its mission, efforts, events, and projects. The Fairfield County (FC) chapter of NEMBA has just under 200 members and contributes to over 600 hours a year in trail work – the building and maintenance of several trail systems in Fairfield County.
You might not have heard about us before, so I’m excited to share a bit about what we do and what we have planned. Last November, I was nominated to serve on FC NEMBA’s board. Our chapter aims to carry out regional NEMBA’s mission at the local level. Weekly, we host two group rides. On Tuesdays at 6:00 PM, we meet at Hemlock Hills in Ridgefield for our fitness ride, and Sundays we meet at different parks at 9:00 AM for a fun weekend ride. We split up into groups and tailor the terrain we ride to the skills and fitness of the group. I also started a ladies’ group with my friend that goes out on these rides, too, so we have been encouraging women who want to get out and ride but might feel intimidated by the guys. Not only do we organize group rides – the most important part of NEMBA is the trail work, advocacy, and community engagement work we do. We maintain an open dialogue with local government, land managers and owners, and partner with local land trust organizations, like Aspetuck Land Trust, for example. Though we are mountain bikers, all the trails we care for in Fairfield County are considered multi-use trails. This means that walkers, hikers, dog walkers, horseback riders, snowshoers, cross-county skiers and more are welcome to use the trails. Nature and the outdoors excite us, and we are happy to meet all kinds of trail users when we’re out riding or volunteering.
The trail systems that we help maintain in Fairfield County are Collis P. Huntington State Park in Redding, Trout Brook Valley Preserve in Weston, Farrington Woods and Tarrywile Park – both in Danbury, Bennett’s Pond State Park, Hemlock Hills, Seth Low Pierrepont State Park, and Pine Mountain – all in Ridgefield, Wilton Woods and Bradley Park – both in Wilton, Pequonnock River Valley State Park in Trumbull, Cranbury Park in Norwalk, and Mianus River Park in Greenwich/Stamford.
Collis P. Huntington State Park, or just Huntington for short, is certainly one of the most popular places in Fairfield County and with its proximity to Bethel, it is beloved by Bethel residents. Recently, FC NEMBA built two new rock bridges on the Lollipop trail near the lower Dodgingtown Road parking lot. Last year, we built two wooden bridges over the swampy, muddy sections on Lollipop to protect and prevent further ruts from damaging the trail. We repeatedly dealt with trail vandals who would break the bridges and either scatter them in the woods nearby or completely remove the bridges altogether. We have no idea who the culprit(s) is/are, but they clearly have a vendetta against mountain bikers. However, their actions are not just hurting mountain bikers, they are hurting the greater community of trail users in our parks. All trail work is planned carefully with the necessary approvals from the state, town, and land managers/owners and all environmental concerns are considered with the highest priority. If you see suspicious behavior out on the trail, please report it to local authorities.
After scratching our heads trying to figure out who the vandals were without luck, we decided our best course of action was to move on and come up with a solution. In April of this year, we built the two rock bridges to hopefully deter the vandals due to the sheer weight of the rocks that would make it difficult to deface. Nearly 20 volunteers came out to help get the job done. Ultimately, the rock bridges provide better drainage and protection to the surrounding wetlands than the wooden bridges did, and they are placed strategically so they provide a solid footing when hiking or riding.
In addition to trail work on existing trails throughout Fairfield County, FC NEMBA is working on a proposal to build five miles of new machine-built trails in Bethel that would connect to Long Ridge Road and Tarrywile Park in Danbury. Also, we aim to connect the Ives Trail so it would complete the loop linking Bethel, Redding, Ridgefield, and Danbury. The trails would be situated in the Terre Haute space off Turnage Lane in the Clarke Business Park. I recently presented our proposal to the Bethel Board of Selectmen to which they had a positive response and gave us the OK to move ahead in the approval process. So, what are the advantages of machine-built trails?
Machine-built trails are highly sought-after because they can be groomed impeccably, in a way hand-built trails cannot. They add a characteristic of “flowiness” to a trail making descending a blast. Generally, machine-built trails are lower maintenance after the first year or so of building. The dirt gets packed down and drainage is factored into the design to prevent washouts. There are companies that are dedicated solely to building machine-built trails and the designers and builders are first and foremost engineers. They survey the land and can accurately measure the topography. In a space like Terre Haute where there is a steep elevation gain (roughly 500 feet over a mile and a half), hand-built re interested in becoming a NEMBA member, you can join on the regional website and select a chapter affiliation, or just a general membership. Memberships help support local trail projects, trail grants, diversity and equity, and further community engagement – you don’t have to be a mountain biker to join!trails would not be possible. Machine-built would be the most efficient method. The term “machine-built” might sound intimidating. One might picture huge bulldozers coming in, but there are specific tools used for trail building and small machinery can get the job done. The idea is to be minimally intrusive to the surrounding area. We are using Norbrook Farm Brewery in Colebrook, Connecticut as our model. They are on 450 acres and the owners hired a trail building company to create machine-built hiking and biking trails – the trails are free to use, and you can enjoy food and beer at the brewery after your hike or ride. It has become a popular destination for multiple trail users.
If the trails get approved in Terre Haute, it would be the first place in Fairfield County to have such a commodity as machine-built trails which would draw people to our awesome town. It would be a great way to support local businesses, create more recreational activities for families and friends, and a long-term goal would be to introduce mountain biking as a team sport in our local schools.
In our proposal, we include a green (easy) multi-directional climbing trail, a blue (intermediate) single directional trail, a black (advanced) single directional trail, and two orange and purple (intermediate) cross-country style multi-directional trails near the top by Long Ridge Road. The trail system at Terre Haute will be e-bike friendly which would allow us to be more inclusive of riders who might need pedal-assist bikes to make riding possible for them. Currently, e-bikes are not allowed in Huntington or other parks in Fairfield County, so allowing them at Terre Haute would create opportunities for those with varying degrees of physical abilities.
Our next steps in the approval process of this project are to have a meeting with Bethel Planning and Zoning, Inland and Wetlands, and the Economic Development Committee, then we will meet with the City of Danbury. After we (hopefully) get all the necessary approvals, we can start applying for funding for the project through sources such as NEMBA regional, CT DEEP, the International Mountain Bike Association, REI, Athletic Brewing Company, and others who offer trail grants in addition to receiving donations. It will cost roughly $250,000 to complete two-thirds of the project. We are so excited to possibly bring more trails to our community!
If you are interested in learning more about FC NEMBA you can visit our website www.fcnemba.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also on Instagram @fcnemba and Facebook. If you would like to help support your favorite local trails, you can make a donation on our TrailKarma page. Also, if you’re interested in becoming a NEMBA member, you can join on the regional website and select a chapter affiliation, or just a general membership. Memberships help support local trail projects, trail grants, diversity and equity, and further community engagement – you don’t have to be a mountain biker to join!