Bicycle 'pump track' approved for Stark Street
BENNINGTON—Mountain biking may be one of the most quickly-growing hobbies in Vermont, but those looking to try it need a way to start small.
That's why the Bennington Area Trail System (BATS) has proposed a "pump track" at Stark Street Playground to encourage children and adults to become acquainted with mountain biking techniques and become comfortable enough to take to the trails.
The Select Board showed unanimous support for the track after BATS's presentation Monday evening and approved a motion for the town manager to engage with BATS for a "carefully conceived plan consistent" with the night's discussion of the track.
What is a pump track?
A pump track is a short, circular riding track that includes smooth dirt mounds (rollers) and raised turns (berms) where a rider cycles not by pedaling but by carefully-timed body motions ("pumping") while creating and maintaining inertia. "Pumping" is important for any mountain biker because it allows them to maintain flow and momentum throughout the trail without having to pedal.
These tracks are suited for any type of bike, and anyone age 3 and up can use the track. According to information from BATS, children typically begin using these trails riding normally, but as they improve their skills they will develop the ability to ride without pedaling.
There are approximately two dozen other pump tracks throughout the state.
BATS founding member Brad DeBoer believes the pump track is a great idea for the town since mountain biking is quickly growing as a hobby in the state, but there is a lack of access to beginner-friendly trails.
"The trail system here can be intimidating in spots," he said. "The opportunity to provide something for less experienced riders is something we're looking to gain here."
DeBoer emphasized that since the proposed pump track isn't an engineered structure, it could be taken down if it didn't receive enough use. The track is proposed to be approximately 40' by 120' with an 8 foot wide path.
"We're not envisioning a gravel pit," he said. "It's a path with grass."
BATS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that began in 2015 and has since built approximately 10 miles of dirt trails and tracks used by mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners.
DeBoer says the trails have begun to attract bikers and hikers from Albany and the Berkshires.
"That's really our vision," DeBoer said, adding that their vision is also to provide for the Bennington community.
The total cost of the park ranges from $5,000 to $5,500 which would be partially covered by a Trail Grant from their affiliated membership organization, Vermont Mountain Bike Association. This $1,620 grant must be used by October. The rest of the funding will come from community group donations and BATS funds obtained through fundraising.
While BATS does not anticipate asking for money from the town for this project, they welcome donations of materials for the park from local contractors. Currently the group is seeking donations of fine soil that packs, native shrubs to enhance the buffer between the track and lawn, hay, mulch and grass.
BATS volunteers would be the primary caretakers responsible for maintaining the track surface, picking up litter, maintaining the track entrance, the initial setup, and making a sign with the park's ground rules and information about the site.
BATS may also request town maintenance for weed whacking along the border and discussed the implementation of a portable toilet.
Stark Street was the top choice for this track since it is the beginning of BATS's trail network that runs in different directions throughout the town.
The intended timeline of the project begins with hiring a trail development company to scout the site in August. At the end of August or beginning of September, a design plan would be drawn up and materials would be lined up.
From mid-September to November, BATS hopes to begin site preparation and building with trail professionals, as well as place signage for the park. BATS would also like to host a group ride or set aside a series of days to introduce people to the track.
Town Manager Stu Hurd said there would be "no undue hardship for the town" in terms of maintenance since the trail is mainly dirt mounds. The material used for these mounds would be a low-dust mixture of clay and loam.
There is not currently a plan to add more parking at the location, especially since people are encouraged to bike or walk to the park.
Community Development Director Zirwat Chowdhury, who has been involved in a number of pop-up parks on Stark Street, expressed her support for the pump track as she is working on making Bennington more involved in fitness and health.
"Our best resource is our parks, especially parks that are within walking and cycling distance," she said.
"It would be really hard for me to not support a project that encourages people to be outside," said Select Board Member Jeanne Conner.
Select Board Member Jim Carroll expressed his support by saying he was pleased to see town lands used in this manner, especially on Stark Street, which is off Dewey Street where he grew up.
"It certainly looks like fun," he said.
Self-described "avid trail-user" Noah Payne, 17, spoke up at the meeting about his excitement for the pump track.
"I started building and riding trails when I was 11 or 12," he said.
He remembered when he began using trails, he would constantly find glass and trash strewn about, but bringing more traffic to the trails has sparked a positive change.
"People are friendly out there," he said. "I see kids on bikes all the time."
He also said that he's talked to many people his age who are trying to determine whether they would like to remain in Bennington for college and their adult life.
"This is what kids need to stay in Bennington," Payne said.
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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