AUBURN — In more ways than one, the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for the trail system at Mount Apatite.
More people than ever have been taking to the outdoors for fresh air and exercise, and in Auburn, professional trail-builder Wil Libby has been able to devote himself to trail maintenance and stewardship at Mount Apatite Park.
Libby, now 42, grew up on the trail network there — a self-described “BMX kid” who went on to build trails professionally in places like the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and on the Appalachian Trail.
In normal times, Libby runs a nonprofit organization called Evergreen Outdoor Education, which conducts wilderness outings for veterans and people with special needs. He also works for OBP Trailworks, based in Turner, which has conducted trail projects across the country. But, because of COVID-19, Libby’s outings have been especially limited.
“Mount Apatite, being a place I grew up and used for a good chunk of my life, I thought I’m just going to do some volunteer work, tweak the trails a little bit and see what I can do,” he said.
Mount Apatite Park is a 300-acre recreational area in the western part of the city, featuring an extensive trail system. Libby said he’s never seen the trails so busy, and that people will often stop to ask what he’s up to, which he uses as a chance to teach them about erosion and other issues.
What began as a chance to “kill some time” in the spring turned into a summer-long mentoring program for high school students, which he’s hoping will foster a new generation of trail stewards in the region. The opportunity came through the central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association
Sabrina Best, director of Auburn’s Recreation Department, said Libby has done “an amazing job” throughout the summer, rebuilding trails and mentoring new trail stewards.
Libby and the students built a new leg of trail, where they learned about sustainable trail-building and how it can impact the local community and economy. He said the feedback from riders so far has been “phenomenal.”
He said the pandemic has also highlighted “the importance of getting outside in safe green spaces for your own mental health.” He’s run across several people at Mount Apatite who told him they’d never hiked there before, and were amazed by the “trail network so close to home.”
Libby has used the influx of new hikers to host small walking tours, using the Friends of Mount Apatite social media page to offer insight on how to make the trail system better.
“I think it’s about how to put some TLC on these trails, and help the average volunteer increase their skill set so we can all be good trail stewards, and take care of this property together,” he said.
Libby grew up in Turner and lives in Livermore. He’s also done work at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, the Camden Snow Bowl and other areas across New England. He helped the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA build a wheelchair-accessible trail along Bobbin Mill Brook.
Going forward, he plans to work with city staff in Auburn to organize a “robust volunteer group,” so that more organized work can take place in the spring. But, he said, he plans to be out on the trails throughout the fall, and he snowshoes during the winter.
“We can make a really focused task list heading into next spring, and get the trails up and even better,” he said. “If we follow that model for several years, we’ll have a world-class destination right here in Auburn.”
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