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A question for the Valley: Where do the kids ride?

As The Wheels Turn

Everybody enjoyed the sunny day at Settlers’ Green during the recent Bike-a-Thon sponsored by the Mt. Washington Valley Bike Path Committee. (Sally McMurdo/Mountain Ear Photo). (click for larger version)
June 03, 2010
On Sunday, May 23, the MWV Bike Path Committee put on a successful Family Bike-a-Thon at Settlers' Green parking lot. A large section of the parking lots on the east side of Settlers' Green was roped off for event, enough territory to give the young riders room to roam safely out of traffic. An obstacle course was set up near the island of pine trees where the riders tried ramps, bridges, teeter-totters, and a tire slalom. The goal of the event was to promote the concept of a local paved path that would provide a safe, central location for all bicycle riders, runners, and walkers to travel without having to compete with cars, trucks and motorcycles. Clearly, such a place is needed, as over 50 youngsters showed up with parents in tow to ride this temporary safe space.

Conway has long had a Rec Path that runs along the Saco River, starting at Smith-Eastman Park. This path is fine for mountain bikers who can handle moderately rough, off-road terrain. For beginning riders, the Rec Path is a little too rough, and it doesn't really go anywhere. It passes no businesses, restaurants, or ice cream stands, and it wouldn't be a good commute for kids headed to school. What's needed is a centrally located, paved pathway that would offer a safe way to get from schools to homes to businesses.

For a bike path to be of benefit to the community, it has to be easy to find, easy to ride, and easy to connect to. Mt. Washington Valley is a geographically ideal spot for a bike path. The landscape is flat, and the soil is workable. So, why is there no bike path? There certainly seems to be enough grassroots support for a path, as evident by the turnout at the Bike-A-Thon. Yes, this support comes from the local bicycling community, which would benefit from a path, but the real community benefit would be to the families and the kids who are not yet skilled road and trail riders. They need a safe place to ride. Indirect benefits would go to the motels, B and Bs, restaurants, and other businesses that could advertise a family-friendly bike path as a draw to the Valley.

Check the results from bike paths around the country — Stowe, Vt., Cape Cod, Northfield-Amherst, Mass. Read the studies on www.americantrails.org to see what benefits have come to other communities. Communities that have bike paths reap enhanced economic benefits as a result, including increased real estate values near the paths.

Where could a Valley bike path be located? Ideally, such a path would connect to the old Rec Path at the south end, travel north past the new Kennett High School, cross Route 302 and continue north along the North-South Road to Whitaker Woods. Sounds simple, but it's not. Landowners balk at the idea of allowing a right-of-way across their property, which might disrupt future development and represent liability issues. Community benefit gets lost in the minutia of legal and economic concerns. The obstacles to a path appear to be land access, money, and state support. If you are interested in and want to lend your support to the MWV Bike Path Project, go to www.mwvbikepath.org to find out ways you can help.

Whitaker Woods, a town forest in North Conway, is at present the closest thing to a local safe bike path. It's not paved, but the wide trail that parallels the railroad tracks from the north end of Oak Street to the power line is rideable and convenient to access. Parking is available at Whitaker House or at John Fuller School. The trail entrance is in the right field corner of the softball field. Whitaker Woods offers several miles of additional trails of varying difficulty; some require climbing and technical riding skills. I've often thought that the main trail along the railroad track could be a paved bike path from Intervale Crossing to Mechanic Street. That would be a start to a longer path that could continue south to Kennett High School.

Echo Lake State Park also offers bike trails, but they are rougher and more suited to skilled mountain bike riders than Whitaker Woods. There are a few old woods roads that are suitable for less skilled riders. They are not paved, and are best suited to fat tire bikes. Check the map on the kiosk near the gate to the park.

Rob Brook Road also offers good gravel road riding for beginner and intermediate riders. It's gated, so it's safe from traffic. Rob Brook Road is located off the Kanc side of Bear Notch Road, about a mile north of the Kanc intersection. Look for a sign board and gate indicating the start. It's possible to ride this rolling gravel road for eight miles to its west end near Church Pond. Many technical mountain bike trails branch off Rod Brook Road.

Maps and information about the Rob Brook Area are available at the Saco Ranger Station at the corner of Route 16 and the Kanc. Take note: Rob Brook Road is 12 miles from town. It's remote, and there are no amenities. Bring water and snacks.

The Crank the Kanc, May 22, had the best riding conditions I can recall: cool temperatures, slightly overcast, little head wind. The bugs were the biggest obstacle, burrowing into a rider's hair through helmet holes, irritating as hell. A slight head wind picked up just past the Weeping Wall, but the bugs reorganized into hungry leeside covens, camped behind helmet and knees to worry us to the top. Bugs be damned — it was a perfect day for record setting rides.

Forty-seven-year-old Dave Burnette set a new men's course record of 1:01.11, and Marti Shea, a new woman's record of 1:12.55. Can the one hour mark be broken? Have to wait 'til next year to see. Check out Dick Pollock's Moatphoto "YouTube" video at www.youtube.com; "Crank the Kanc."

Join me and MWV Velo Club riders for the June Birthday Ride on Saturday, June 5, at 9:30 a.m. at Cranmore parking lot. Three road loops will be mapped: 36 miles, 56 miles and 72 miles, making use of Mill Street, Snowville Road, Route 160 from Brownfield to Porter, return north on Route 153. Go to www.mwvvelo.org for ride descriptions. This and all Velo Club rides are open to everyone. Come on out and ride with some friendly local cyclists.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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