(Chmura Rd. Trails)
Saturday November 19, 2022
Recent history of Earl's Trails stewardship
Disclaimer: This brief history is compiled of projects and planning that I was specifically involved with completing as President of the Pioneer Valley Chapter of NEMBA. While much of this work was completed as a board member of NEMBA, the efforts should be recognized as those of the riding community rather than an organization that they support. There are many wonderful trail maintainers in this system who have completed work as needed in the shadows. This is not a complete history of Earl's Trails and may not include many other extremely important contributions by other members of our community.
2017 - Plans for stream bank remediation project with Hampshire College and Kestrel Land Trust, trail signage discussion, thoughts on informational kiosk.
2018 - Start of landowner partnerships to legitimize trail work projects, specifically with Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation.
2019 - Earl's Trails is acknowledged and supported by Town of Hadley, Hampshire College, Amherst College. Trail projects are able to be completed legally.
2020 - Stream bank remediation project ("swoopy bridge" re-route) receives full approval for construction from Town of Hadley Conservation Commission.
2021 - Informational kiosk posted via partnership with Kestrel Land Trust and landowners at Earl's Trails.
2017 - Brainstorming and Planning
Planning map by Mass Dept. of Conservation and Recreation
In 2017 an effort was started to reach out to landowners at Earl's trails to start the process of legitimizing this popular trail system and suggest trail improvement projects.
As most of the trails in the valley, these trails were mostly built without approval from landowners. To start the legitimizing process communication channels were opened with Mass DCR.
Contact was made with Amherst College and Town of Hadley Conservation Commission. Communication was positive and gave soft approval of trail maintenance and projects on the properties owned or managed by these parties.
Note: Despite being a patchwork of Mass DCR, Town of Hadley, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and private landowners, common "knowledge" was that Mass DCR owned all of the land at Earl's.
"Swoopy Bridge" Replacement Initial Steps
Discussions about plans for bridges, boardwalks, signage, and informational kiosks were introduced to landowners and managers. These ideas shaped into ongoing conversations and planning.
One of the larger projects planned for completion at Earl's was replacing the pallet bridge referred to as the "swoopy bridge" on the approach trail at the bottom of the trail system. This project was proposed in 2017 to Hampshire College and Kestrel Land Trust, the conservation restriction holder for the Hampshire College property.
This particular bridge was at the bottom of a high sloped stream that had eroded majorly resulting in an ever changing ride experience but also dumping sediment into the stream opening the possibilities of ecological impact. The bridge was historically made of wooden pallets or widely spaced ladder bridges that were difficult to navigate on foot. These bridges also presented hazards as planks regularly snapped and the framing cracked or sagged until it was replaced by another pallet or equivalent "fix".
"Swoopy Bridge" on Approach. Old bridges still in place below.
Information and Navigation Resources Discussion
Discussion within the community was heated regarding trail signs or kiosks being posted for this trail system. The overwhelming support was for resources being posted as both a help for regular users and for those visiting from further away. Discussion of these ideas were completed with Hampshire College, The Hitchcock Center, Mass DCR, and Kestrel Land Trust. Goals were set to reach out to each landowner in the trail system for permission to move forward with signing the trails.
2018 - Landowner Trail Maintenance Discussions
Trail Work Approval
The partnership with Mass DCR grew as authorized work increased for for trail systems located on DCR properties across the valley. Discussion of work approval process for Mass DCR was fine tuned and planned for Earl's.
Further work was done to reach out to Hampshire and Amherst College to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize permission granted for maintaining the trails or building infrastructure as needed for these properties.
Basic trail maintenance of deadfall clearing, corridor trimming, and drainage clearing were ok'd and performed. Momentum was building from riders in the community and trail work enthusiasm was increasing.
Trail dog "Sadie" helping clear the trails. Deadfall on Glenna Bell.
2019 - Trail Work
Part of the trail crew getting together to build boardwalk over persistent wet spot on Amherst College property.
Town of Hadley Approval
In 2019 the legitimization process of Earl's took off. A proposal for recognition and maintenance of the trails at Earl's was submitted to the Town of Hadley Select Board and received a full vote of approval to do maintenance at Earl's Trails. This agreement also mentioned the building of new trails with their permission after discussion with the board. With the continued support of the Town of Hadley Conservation Commission, the municipal side of this trail system was legitimized.
Jonathan M. and Adele P. with Paul Gagnon of Kestrel Land Trust. Town of Hadley Selectboard Meeting Approving the CR for Holyoke Range.
Kestrel Land Trust Partnership
2019 also marked bigger steps with Kestrel Land Trust to obtain a conservation restriction protecting 3 pieces of property across Earl's Trails. This land deal was part of a much larger land acquisition across the Holyoke Range involving large grants and partnerships with Mass DCR, Kestrel Land Trust, and local trail user groups. The 3 parcels at Earl's Trails were owned by Hadley and Amherst College. In November the town approved this conservation restriction guaranteeing protection of mountain bike access and trails maintenance approval at Earl's Trails.
This land deal benefitted the mountain bike community by not only protecting our access to these lands, but by simplifying the management process of these parcels. As mountain bike trail building standards were written in as a reference for the types of work allowed, completing projects on Hampshire College, Amherst College, or Town of Hadley land was now initially cleared. This step allows landowners to trust that the work we do will be done right as the CR lists it as approved.
2020 - "Swoopy Bridge" Project Completion
"Doing it the right way"
One of the more surprising "controversial" projects completed at Earl's was the replacement of the historically sketchy pallet bridge at the bottom of a small stream ravine. Discussion with the landowners, land managers, trail builders, conservation commission showed overwhelming agreement to the replacement of this bridge and rerouting the trail. Keeping the bridge out of the stream slopes would stop the erosion and soil compaction problem and provide a more reasonable crossing experience. As this bridge was on an approach trail which connects the bottom of the system together, the technical nature of the previous crossing on such a basic access trail was unreasonable for some. The pallet bridge was also notably difficult for foot traffic, so if a rider was unable to commit, walking would prove even more sketchy. This project ensured that a consistent and safe trail experience would be waiting for trail users well into the future of Earl's.
The 2020 pandemic affected a lot of the work happening with our local community. With lots of people antsy to get out and do something it was decided that After 3 years in the works, the pieces finally aligned to get the "swoopy bridge" project completed. Designs for the bridge were discussed, measurements had been taken, delivery of materials was sorted, and volunteer days were set.
From initial materials gathering through prep work, and into final construction of the bridge and trail re-route took about 26 hours. This time was spread across 20+ volunteers working in waves for prep, delivery, construction, trail building, and cleanup.