City officials pitch Freeport as a mountain biking destination

Freeport’s mountain bikers have mostly had to turn to nearby towns to take advantage of their fast-growing hobby, but their hometown could soon become a new cycling hotspot, local officials say.

A forum is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on plans for a new bike path system on city-owned Hedgehog Mountain, according to Tawni Whitney, executive director of the Freeport Chamber of Commerce.

If approved, the trails could start attracting cyclists from across the region as early as next year.

“That would be the best 6.3-mile mountain bike territory in the state,” Whitney said. “The goal is to make Freeport a destination.”

The proposal, which grew out of recent efforts to develop a new vision for Freeport’s future, would complement popular Hedgehog Mountain hikes with an array of beginner, intermediate and expert bike trails, according to Whitney. She added that taxpayers will not cover any of the projected $250,000 cost, thanks to fundraising efforts by the Chamber of Commerce and the New England Mountain Bike Association.

Mountain biking has grown in popularity in recent years, said Rob Lavoie of the New England Mountain Bike Association, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped Freeport develop its Hedgehog Mountain plans. Cyclists seeking fresh air during the pandemic have flocked to trails in towns like Falmouth, Pownal and Gorham, which Lavoie said saw a 366 per cent increase in ridership from 2019 to 2021.

“I see it as a public health benefit,” said Lavoie, who will join Whitney in sharing Freeport’s proposal on Tuesday night. “We need to get more people outside, off screens, reconnecting with nature, and this is just another way to do it.”

In addition to encouraging residents to connect with the outdoors, Whitney said, the trails could also support local businesses by bringing visiting equestrians to Freeport, especially during the normally quiet winter months.

“I think Freeport is at a pivotal time for change,” she said. “We’ve been known as an outlet town for twenty years, but Freeport is so much more. We have a great opportunity ahead of us. »

City Council Speaker Dan Piltch agreed the project fits well with Freeport’s new focus on promoting outdoor experiences. He said Tuesday’s forum at City Hall will give the public a chance to ask questions and shape the proposal before city council votes on it, which likely won’t happen for several months.

“We haven’t really heard from other users of the property or from residents of the city,” Piltch said. “They can have a lot of opposition. There may not be many. We just don’t know, and that’s why we wanted to hold a public workshop.

Some members of the Freeport Conservation Commission were initially concerned about the project’s impact on the environment and the hikers and dog walkers who already use the property, according to Stuart Johnson, co-owner and crew chief of Maine Trail Builders. , who would lead the six-month trail construction.

Still, Johnson argued that purpose-built mountain bike trails can reduce issues such as erosion and overcrowding that can occur when cyclists use hiking trails. With thoughtful design, he said, trail makers could get riders to the mountain while minimizing the negative impact on natural habitats.

Because Chip Gray, owner of the Harraseeket Inn and former mountain biker, supports the plan that would make it easier for children and families to get outside.

“It’s completely different to ride a bike in the city or on the road,” he said. “It’s fresh air instead of riding through traffic and breathing in exhaust fumes. And it’s fun. I mean, it’s really fun.

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