Mountain biking is a lifelong sport, a sport that nearly any person can enjoy, no matter their gender, age, agility, or a myriad of factors that often determine if one can participate in a different sport. Mountain biking can be used to improve one’s health, agility, balance, endurance, and overall confidence. This is why I have made it such a priority to teach middle school students how to mountain bike here in Central Massachusetts. Over the past ten years the Central Tree Mountain Biking Team (CTMB) has involved over 400 young adults, improving their health, increasing their confidence, and lining them up with a lifelong sport that they can participate in throughout their entire life. Once in high school many of the previous participants have rejoined the team as “student coaches” guiding the younger students through the agility and endurance components necessary to be a well-rounded mountain biker.
The team focuses on building student confidence through incremental challenges on campus in Rutland before moving on to other more challenging locations off campus. During the first eight years running the team, rides off campus mainly comprised of riding from our school to the Central Mass Rail Trail and then onto the Ware River Watershed (WRW) and Rutland State Park. The trails located within the State Park and especially within the WRW were perfect for a burgeoning young mountain biker. There were trails for every level of ability and to boot the geology, ecology, and wildlife of the area added an “outdoor classroom” component that could not be beat. Students could easily learn about proper body position to ride up a hill while learning about the last glaciation of MA.
During the first eight years of CTMB our team would ride from the school campus to the Ware River trails and the Rutland State Park trails. Students were able to hone their skills at various levels while riding in their own town. This also made for a great location for students to practice during the off-season or during times that we did not have practice, as many students live along the rail trail. The students on our team were given the opportunity safely enjoy a healthy, lifelong sport right in their hometown. At its peak, the team had 55 students participating on the team.
Due to the trail closures throughout the Ware River Watershed the Central Tree Mountain Biking team has had to resort riding in locations well off of campus. Although locations such as Oakham State Forest, Leominster State Forest, Tully Dam, and the Trustees of Reservations land in Petersham have been great alternative spots for riding, they do not offer the proximity nor leveled terrain that the Ware River Watershed offered during the previous eight years of riding. Due to the trail closures and the stresses of transporting both students and bikes to much further locations the team has seen a dramatic decrease in student participants. This past season only had 15 students participating, many of them unprepared for the difficulties of the other trails made available to the team. The trails throughout the watershed provided a myriad of opportunities for the students on CTMB and the loss of these trails has truly taken away from the youth of Rutland.
Although the students and I have attended multiple WRWAC meetings and have presented multiple ways we can work together with the DCR to reopen trails and prevent supposed damage made by trail users, the DCR has refused to do more than allow us to use the existing road system throughout the watershed. These are the same roads that cars are allowed to use, and they do not provide any actual mountain biking opportunities for the students. I can only hope that someday there is a justifiable reason provided for the trail closures and the students who ride with CTMB are given a chance to be involved with helping solve a supposed problem instead of being told that they are the problem. What does that teach them about the state they live in?