HMBA improving multi-use trails at Echo Valley for mountain biking

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Despite the number of active, outdoor-loving people in the Huntsville area, one activity is conspicuously absent, at least officially: mountain biking.

There are riders here, of course, but with no public trails to ride on, they spend their time either driving to nearby towns where there are trails, or they head to unofficial, ‘secret’ trails that are on private property. The Huntsville Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) is hoping to change that.

The group, which is in just its second year, has formed a partnership with the Township of Lake of Bays to maintain the multi-use trails at Echo Valley (17 km east of Huntsville, just off Hwy 60 on Echo Hills Road) with an eye to making them more mountain bike-friendly, particularly for newer riders.

“We’d like to keep the trails multi-use, we just want to make it a little bit more friendly to mountain biking as well as keeping the nature trails,” says Buck Miller, HMBA president. “What we wanted to do is have a couple of entry-level trails so that new or young riders could go experience mountain biking and not be too discouraged.”

On Sunday, August 18, HMBA members and volunteers headed to Echo Valley for a trail maintenance day and barbecue. They spent the morning clearing trails of debris, cutting back overhanging vegetation to improve visibility, filling in low spots with almost two tons of dirt provided by the Township of Lake of Bays, and improving drainage.

Graham Henderson and Eleanor Miller get their hands dirty (above left) and HMBA volunteers are ready to dig in to make the Echo Valley trails more mountain bike-friendly. (Photos courtesy of the HMBA)

Buck Miller (above left) and Luke Howell (above right) are two of the many volunteers who helped out on trail maintenance day. (Photos courtesy of the HMBA)

The post-work barbeque, supported by Bullock’s Your Independent Grocer and Lake of Bays Brewery’s Huntsville Brewhouse, allowed everyone to meet fellow riders and “really reaffirmed our belief that there is a strong, enthusiastic mountain bike community in Huntsville,” adds HMBA secretary, Adam Galt.

The HMBA hopes to host another trail maintenance day at Echo Valley in September.

Volunteers enjoyed a barbecue and camaraderie following the build day (Photo courtesy of the HMBA)

Volunteers enjoyed a barbecue and camaraderie following their trail maintenance work (Photo courtesy of the HMBA)

Echo Valley has been popular with hikers, but not as much with mountain bikers. Miller encourages riders to check it out and to help out their maintenance efforts by leaving a donation in the box at the trail head whenever possible.

“We started this to get public access to mountain bike trails so we can finally have place that we can call our own and we can invite people and we can have youth skills days and get the community involved to get more people interested in the sport of mountain biking publicly,” says Miller. “When our three bike shops in town sell a bike and someone is excited to go try it, they can’t recommend [local]trails.”

Miller says the Township of Lake of Bays was eager to work with the group “and have us help them maintain their trails and get more people on them and get more people to stop in Lake of Bays and enjoy those great trails over at Echo Valley, because they are great.”

The HMBA has also been working with the Town of Huntsville to identify opportunities to create mountain bike trails within Huntsville.

“Successful events like this trail maintenance day show the current demand for riding in the area, and the potential for the future,” says Galt.

It also highlights the need to plan for public green spaces, says Miller. “Saving public green space close to towns is really important. These same trails we can keep open for snowshoers, for skiers, they have multi-uses, it’s not just mountain biking. And mountain bikers and trail walkers and dog walkers, we can coexist peacefully, we do in every other venue in Ontario. There’s very few places that are mountain bike specific and that’s not what we’re trying to build. I think the reason we’re having such a hard time finding any [space]in Huntsville is that they haven’t saved a lot. It’s all been sold to development.”

Beginning Thursday, August 29, the HMBA plans to have weekly group rides at Echo Valley, leaving at 6:00 p.m. from the parking lot at the trail head. Everyone is welcome.

If you love to mountain bike, consider joining the HMBA, too. Membership is just $25 per year.

“There’s a lot of mountain bikers in Huntsville that haven’t joined the club – now that we are working on Echo Valley, we would like them to join,” says Miller. “It’s an exciting time to be a mountain biker in Huntsville.”

Visit huntsvillemountainbike.ca for more information, and follow along at the Huntsville Mountain Bike Association Facebook page or on their Instagram feed @huntsvillemountainbike.

Related: Provincial 55+ mountain biking event coming to Muskoka thanks to local organizer Karen Litchfield

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