WILMINGTON – Two kids walked along a series of trails and hills, the land around them interspersed with mountain bike ramps built with freshly cut lumber. They were gearing up for this weekend’s Wilmington Mountain Bike Festival, set for Friday, Aug. 30 to Sunday, Sept. 1.
On Tuesday morning, Aug. 27, Charlie Wilson, Henry Loher and their families were armed with shovels and rakes at Wilmington’s bike park. They weren’t there to ride their bikes. They were preparing the space for the passel of mountain bikers expected to descend upon the town this weekend as part of the annual mountain bike festival, which celebrates the constantly improving network of bike trails in town.
What was once a recreation park nestled behind the town’s only gas station is now an enclave for mountain bikers, replete with a pump track – a course made with uneven, strategically placed hills of dirt – a balance beam, rollers and wooden ramps.
Charlie Wilson, left, and Henry Loher hold up a preliminary map they presented to the Wilmington town board showing where they’d like to see new amenities added to the community’s bike park.
(News photo — Elizabeth Izzo)
This course was designed and built by Wilson and Loher, both soon-to-be sixth-graders at the Lake Placid Middle School.
The 11-year-olds have been riding bikes for as long as they can remember. Wilson started pedal biking when he was 2 years old. Loher started around the same time, and by the time he was 4 years old, he had graduated to riding on trails.
Loher and Wilson are active in the community. Both volunteered alongside their parents to help build new sections of trails behind the Lake Placid Elementary School earlier this year, a building they’re leaving behind as they head to middle school in September. They were also named Wilmington’s Citizens of the Year in 2018.
The two were the driving force behind getting the Hardy Kids mountain bike race up and running two years ago. It’s a kids-only event that’ll be returning at the mountain bike festival.
Bringing the park to life
For the last few years, Wilson and Loher have raised money through the Hardy Kids mountain bike race for the Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA), a nonprofit dedicated to building, maintaining and advocating for trail networks throughout the High Peaks region. Altogether, they collected around $1,300 for improvements to the bike park.
Earlier this year, they presented preliminary designs for upgrades to the park to the Wilmington town board. They also made a presentation to the BETA board.
Former town Supervisor Randy Preston threw his support behind the project, and the BETA board agreed to contribute $1,000 toward the project. Cycle Adirondacks, which puts on bicycle tours, contributed another $1,000, according to Colin Loher, a BETA member and Henry’s father.
They started site work in July and made a lot of headway this past Sunday, Aug. 25, when a group of 40 volunteers gathered at the park to help the boys out.
Henry Loher said they haven’t spent a lot of the money they raised because there’s been so much volunteer support.
“We just bought a box of nails,” he said.
The lumber used to build new bike ramps came from a dead, downed tree in the park. Town Highway Superintendent William Skufca Jr. brought a lumber mill to the park and cut the tree. Everything else was manual labor.
It’s a work in progress, according to Wilson.
“There’s still a little bit to do,” he said.
They want to build a step-up, more obstacles and another jump in the lower level of the park, but that will come after the festival.
Mountain bike festival
The third annual Wilmington Mountain Bike Festival is slated for Friday through Sunday.
Online registration is closed, but on-site registration will still be open. Those interested in participating can show up from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday; 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Sunday to register and sign up for group rides.
The event draws bikers to the town’s hub of more than 25 miles of locally built bike trails, including the Flume and Hardy Road networks, the Poor Man’s Downhill and the Cooper Kiln trail.
The festival kicks off this year with a “hardy hour” group ride at 5 p.m. Friday, when local guides will bring participants along on a tour of the new Hardy Road trail system.
BETA, which is organizing this year’s event, collaborates with the town of Wilmington and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to maintain the bike trails around Wilmington.
Honoring Randy Preston
Colin Loher said this year’s festival is dedicated to Wilmington’s former town supervisor, Randy Preston, who died in July.
Preston served as supervisor for more than 10 years, and he was a tireless advocate for the town’s mountain bike network.
“He was a spark that stoked the fire this town has for mountain biking,” Colin Loher said.
Wilson and Henry Loher want to dedicate Wilmington’s bike park to Preston, too.
On Tuesday morning, Aug. 27, standing by a newly built part of the bike skills course, Wilson smiled and looked at Henry Loher.
“I want to see a plaque (for Preston) this big,” he said, stretching his hands wide.