EAST BURKE — Three landowners from the nearly 100-strong network that allows the popular Kingdom Trail Association (KTA) to operate in the Northeast Kingdom are no longer allowing mountain bikers access to their properties.
Sue and Gary Burrington, Sharon Dolloff, and Fred and Mary Jane Miller, are no longer allowing access to mountain bikers, Kingdom Trails Executive Director Abby Long confirmed on Friday.
“They have not left the trail network, they are still KTA landowners,” said Long. “They will allow access, except for bikes.”
KTA has a total of 97 landowners who permit mountain bikers, skiers, hikers and horseback riders to use the trails network which exists across all privately held properties through the association.
Long said she did not feel comfortable sharing letters from the landowners in question about why they recently chose to withdraw their properties from KTA.
The properties are in the middle of Darling Hill adjacent to or across from Willoughby Way, a heavily used, very popular part of the scenic road which attracts thousands of mountain bikers every year, a critical piece of the NEK economy.
“They are large parcels on the ridge,” said Long of the three properties in question.
Only one landowner has pulled out of the network in KTA’s 25-year history, an out-of-state property owner who did so when the property was on the market, believing it might hinder sale of the property. The property ended up being sold to mountain bikers.
Efforts to reach the Burringtons, Dolloff and Miller this week were not successful by press time Friday.
Efforts to obtain communications sent to KTA from the landowners were also not successful.
There has been a heightened attention the past year to concerns from property owners, particularly on Darling Hill Road in Lyndonville, about traffic and parking.
Concern about the impacts of the traffic and heavy visitor load, as well as safety in East Burke downtown in the village and along some heavily trafficked roads during the height of mountain biking season have also been areas of concern.
A committee of volunteers is working on that subject and ways to improve safety, and the town of Burke is planning to embark on a major upgrade to East Darling Hill Road to improve safety for cyclists and motorists using the road that leads to the very popular Darling Hill Road.
Kingdom Trails Executive Director Abby Long provided the following statement to the Caledonian-Record on Friday.
Recently three Darling Hill landowners notified the Kingdom Trail Association that they no longer wish to provide bike access on their properties. We fully respect their decision, as it is their private property and they have the sole right to determine the use of their land. We are beyond grateful to each of them for allowing Kingdom Trails access over the past 25 years and continuing to allow Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, jogging, and horseback riding.
Kingdom Trails understands the concerns for the pressure and stress the continued strong growth in trail use and area visits has put on landowner’s properties as well as the roads and small villages where trail access exists. While the success of the trails has brought meaningful economic benefit to the area, challenges and tension points exist around traffic, congestion and pedestrian safety of residents and visitors alike.
Kingdom Trails fully recognizes these issues and we are taking action. This past July, we were awarded a USDA grant for a Network Feasibility and Infrastructure Study. The study, through engaging our landowners and community, along with a systems approach, will advocate possible ideal Welcome Center locations, needed parking, access portals, assess traffic to recommend safe flow and dispersion methods, pedestrian crossings, as well as trail network capacity balance. The study will explore how trails, integrated with economic development, enhance visitor experiences, support local workforce, and most importantly improve residents’ quality of life. Kingdom Trails believes this study will aid in addressing many of the concerns community members and landowners currently have.
This study will be completed by the end of season 2020. In the meantime, we continue to strive toward mitigating congestion and creating a safe community. Kingdom Trails is working collaboratively with the Town of Burke to reconstruct East Darling Hill Rd. The project consists of new subbase, drainage and asphalt, plus a 5-foot bike lane for uphill cyclists. Additionally, KTA purchased two parcels of land adjacent to the road. This acquisition will secure a critical trail connection for KTA, ensuring that trail users will be able to have an off-road option instead of using East Darling Hill Rd for both uphill and downhill bicycle travel, avoiding a dangerous conflict between cycle and car, increasing the safety of our community and visitors, drivers and riders.
We have also worked hard to spread and disperse trail traffic through new trail development. These new trails are directed well off Darling Ridge headed to East Haven. The Flower Brook connector trail was built this summer to discourage trail users from biking along VT 114 from downtown East Burke to East Haven. KTA also works side by side with the OneBurke committee, exploring options to extend trails to the Burke Town School and possibly West Burke. A similar goal is our work with the Lyndonville Select Board, building a trail to connect to the potential new Lyndon Green Space where the old town garages currently are. These efforts would not only relieve congestion on Darling Ridge and East Buke, but broaden further economic opportunities to our neighboring towns.
While the Kingdom Trails network will be affected by this change in access and connectivity, miles of diverse trail terrain remains for all skill levels that promise a lot of smiles, technical challenges and enrichment with our stunning landscape and host communities. Further, KTA is committed to continuing to provide and enhance the incredible trail experience members have come to expect, as well as striving toward our mission of offering recreation and education opportunities to foster the health of our local community, surrounding environment, and regional economy.