In 2022 Inland Woods + Trails was awarded a $10,000 International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Trail Accelerator Grant which was matched by Inland Woods + Trails to focus on a trail development plan.

Goals of the plan:

  • Develop a high-quality contemporary non-motorized trail network with a diversity of trail experiences.
  • Highlight the unique landscape, terrain, and setting of the property through recreation.
  • Create a regional destination for recreation.
  • Provide meaningful trail experiences to the local residents.
  • Set the framework for a successful trail community with guidance on implementation, maintenance, stewardship, and long-term maintenance of trails.
  • Build the groundwork to allow local residents to capitalize on the economic benefits of a destination trail system
  • Balance recreation with long-term forestry and land management

In June 2022, two staff from IMBA Trail Solutions visited the Bethel Community Forest, The Bingham Forest, and the Bethel Water District parcel. In advance of the on the ground reconnaissance the IMBA staff spent time researching the area economy, tourism, recreation, forestry, and consulted highly detailed maps and remote imaging to prepare. In the week they were on the ground they walked and biked to the areas they had identified, checking the areas and suitability for different kinds of trail development. They followed up with detailed mapping and a report that outlines the phased development of 65+ miles of diverse trail system to complement the existing biking, hiking and multiuse trail system.

IMBA Master Plan

Overview of the Plan

The Bethel Community Forest and Bingham Forest currently has about 25 miles of trails, including single track mountain biking, hiking trails, shared multi use trails, and, in winter, snowmobile trails. The IMBA plan proposes a further 65+ miles of shared use (hiking and biking) and single track mountain bike trails. The plan details a 15 year phased development of a diverse trail system that caters for gravel and cross country bike riding on double track and forest roads, beginner friendly (smooth flowy contouring) single track trails, as well as remote and advanced trails on technical terrain. Some of the trails will be designated multi use, and will be suitable for hikers and bikers. The IMBA staff highlighted the possibilities for dispersed trail heads and access points, diversity of trail types and skill levels, and a system that will have a link to both the Town of Bethel and Sunday River Resort via the Community Access Trail which is under construction.

The increase in trails will help Bethel leverage its current winter tourism into a recreation-based economic driver year-round, while protecting and enhancing the wild, natural beauty of the area. Although Oxford County is blessed with outdoor opportunity, it is still one of the least healthy counties in Maine, so the trails will offer a vital avenue to help local residents improve their physical and mental health. Once the trail system is under way, two local youth riding programs will enjoy better access and sustainability to bolster their efforts. The Town of Bethel and The Bingham Forest Authority have voted to adopt the plan and have given the go ahead for Inland Woods + Trails to move ahead pending funding.

Next Steps

Inland Woods + Trails will be building trails in 2024 based on the recommendations of the IMBA plan, we will use our staff and volunteers, as well as subcontracting out to professional trail builders. This will run concurrently with some other projects in the Community Forest; the continued construction of the Community Access Trail, developing the trail head parking at 305 North Road Bethel, and the development of hiking trails to continue the Summit Access hiking trail to connect to Sunday River.

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