NEK Gravel Rides Project

PROJECT UPDATE – March 2, 2020

The NEK Gravel Rides Project started in order to encourage physical activity and promote community and visitor access to some of the most beautiful and scenic parts of the region as well as to encourage economic growth in small town centers in the Northeast Kingdom. Through a Vermont Municipal Planning Grant, the towns of Concord and Burke started the project to assess and map gravel rides in the towns of Burke, Victory, Concord, and Kirby utilizing existing gravel roads. Due to the subsequent USDA grant administered by the Northern Forest Center, the NEK Gravel Rides Project is able to expand into Sutton, Lyndonville, St. Johnsbury, and Waterford. By dispersing riders throughout the region with curated routes, local and visiting riders will be dispersed to explore a larger geographic area. 

Since the start of the project, there has been much interest, curiosity, and a few misconceptions about project goals, suggested rides being mapped, expected rider volume, and how safety will be addressed. To follow is additional information about the project, including future opportunities for community engagement.

PROJECT GOALS

The overall project goals include:

  1. Develop and market gravel riding as a new outdoor activity in the region; the NEK Gravel  Rides Project is one of many NEK outdoor recreation activities available and, when possible, will be marketed with other opportunities.
  2. Encourage gravel riders to explore town centers, discover local attractions, and frequent local businesses; by spreading out riders throughout the region, there will be less congestion in any one central place.
  3. Bring more visitors and year-round residents to the Northeast Kingdom region;
  4. Relieve traffic congestion in East Burke Village, especially by strengthening connections between communities; 
  5. 5. Educate riders and minimize user conflicts by emphasizing rider safety and etiquette.
  6. Support diverse user groups, including pedestrians and equestrians.

VERMONT RECREATION FOCUS

The State of Vermont is focused on promoting outdoor recreation and sharing the quality of life we enjoy here in Vermont as a way to provide economic growth. The NEK Gravel Rides Project aligns with the state’s focus on outdoor recreation and promotion of a rural recreation economy through the use of existing infrastructure. To follow are links to articles about Vermont’s recreation focus and the importance of physical movement to improve health outcomes.

OTHER EXAMPLE PROJECTS

Gravel riding is distinct from mountain biking, and numerous areas in the Northeast are looking at assessing and promoting gravel rides separate from, and in addition to dedicated single track. One of the earliest developed gravel riding networks in Vermont was promoted by Slate Valley Trails, which is located in the Poultney region in the west-central part of the state. 

https://slatevalleytrails.org/gravel-ride-network

To understand the impact of this mapped network of gravel rides, the Slate Valley Trails organizers report that they see about 10 riders per week on routes during peak season.

SAFETY

Rider and community safety are a priority of the NEK Gravel Project. We have drafted a messaging outline, found here and attached. Please email nekgravel@gmail.com with additional safety considerations that should be considered.   

Fortunately, there are many existing tools available to promote safety. To follow are links to example videos that are available to promote safety.

PHASE I UPDATE

Phase I of the NEK Gravel Rides Project was split into four tasks – Preliminary Roads/Route Assessments, Field Inventory, Rides Identification and Rides Promotion. Currently, we are nearing completion of the first three tasks and are presenting the second draft of identified rides.

Project achievements to date:

MAY 2019:

  • Created a project area-wide planning map showing roads, natural features, towns and trail infrastructure.
  • Held an initial public meeting at the Concord Town Office (May 9) to elicit initial feedback on roads in the four towns and hear and comments and concerns. 

JUNE 2019:

  • Held a second public meeting at Do North Coworking in Lyndonville (June 19) and presented Goals and Vision Statement for the project as well as heard comments and concerns.
  • Created an online map viewer and comment form to elicit further feedback from residents who were not able to join the meeting.
  • Reached out to other user groups including Vermont Horse Council, local gravel riders, Vermont Department of Forests Parks and Recreation.
  • Created a one-page overview of the project for outreach to interested parties.

JULY-AUGUST 2019:

  • Drove gravel roads in Concord, Burke, Kirby, and Victory to assess navigability, safety and loop potential of the roads.
  • Biked or walked Class IV roads to assess navigability, safety and loop potential of the Class IV connections.

SEPTEMBER 2019:

  • Used the results of the field inventory to create 10 draft rides in the four towns.
  • Created online ride viewers, downloadable GPS files and cue sheets for the routes.

OCTOBER 2019:

  • Recruited local riders to test the rides and provide feedback.

NOVEMBER 2019:

  • Created a first draft map showing all proposed rides and distributed to interested parties
  • Presented the draft rides map to the Concord Selectboard, the Concord Planning and Zoning Board, and the Burke Planning and Zoning Board

DECEMBER 2019 – JANUARY 2020:

  • Received feedback from residents regarding the draft rides online, through phone calls and at a house meeting.
  • Emailed press release about project to Caledonian Record and multiple articles about the project were printed. 

FEBRUARY 2020

  • Modified the draft rides map based on feedback received during the previous three months.
  • Developed draft safety messaging.

Current Project Status: 

Printable PDFs of the second draft routes found at this link. 

We updated the draft routes in response to feedback from the town select and planning and zoning boards as well as from residents of the towns. Please see here and attached for our responses to the comments and the second draft proposed routes. We are looking for input on the changes to the draft routes. Comments can be submitted through email, through the online form or at the public meeting we will be holding in Burke.

PHASE II UPDATE

Additional funding to extend the NEK Gravel Ride Project was received from a second grant to expand rides assessment activities in 3-4 towns adjacent to the core Phase I towns. Meetings were held with the select boards of the towns of St. Johnsbury, Lyndon and Sutton to introduce the project. The St. Johnsbury Bike Advisory Committee and the Lyndonville Bike & Pedestrian Advisory Committee have reviewed the Phase II details. We also have reached out to the Waterford Planning and Zoning Board. 

We are currently developing initial draft routes through the Phase II towns. 

We are also developing a website that will be used to educate riders about gravel riding etiquette, safety, and gravel riding opportunities and loops in the region.

DUE TO THE THREAT OF COVID-19, COMMUNITY MEETINGS HAVE BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL IT IS SAFE TO GATHER.  

If you have any questions or comments, would like to test rides or be more involved, or would like to report areas where people shouldn’t ride, such as dangerous corners or intersections, you can use the form for that as well. Thank you for your input!

 

For more information about the Northeast Kingdom Gravel Rides Project, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Awarded annually and administered by DHCD, the Municipal Planning Grant program supports local community revitalization and planning initiatives. Since 1998, the program provided over $12 million to 234 cities and towns across Vermont, bringing people together to adopt useful and relevant municipal plans and implementing those plans through downtown revitalization, updating regulations, improved capital budgeting and innovative projects to prepare for the challenges they face.