The trails got their start some 25 years ago, when a ski shop owner named John Worth, who opened East Burke Sports in 1988, started selling mountain bikes and cutting trails by hand. This was the early 1990s and mountain biking was just starting to take off. The trails grew in popularity and Worth, along with help from other community members, worked with private landowners to grow the trail network to what it is today. Today’s Kingdom Trails, which are overseen by the nonprofit Kingdom Trail Association (KTA), stretch across land owned by 97 different private landowners. (Flylow teamed up with KTA as a uniform partner last year.)
The trails are geared toward riders of all levels, from beginners to experts.
“Maybe the region in a remote region of northern Vermont is a mecca for mountain bikers because of the 100 miles of world-class singletrack that dips into berms, pops up over tangled roots, or rolls past breathtaking bucolic vistas,” says Kelly Ault, executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance. “Or maybe it’s the foresight and boldness of private landowners, townspeople, and innovating riders, trail builders, and business owners who came together over 25 years ago with a vision for a nature-based economy anchored in a small, rural town.”
It’s a model concept, for sure: Communities sharing access to private land to build a remarkable network of trails for everyone. The trails are geared toward riders of all levels, from beginners to experts. The trails aren’t free: KTA asks for membership fees to access the trails—it’s $20 a day, $40 a month, or $75 for an annual pass. (Kids 7 and under are free). Those fees help maintain the trails and support the organization’s mission of providing recreational and educational opportunities for all.
The trails have been good for the local economy. These days, some 100,000 visitors—with 84 percent of those coming from out of state—descend on the rural Northeast Kingdom each year to access the trails, a tourism boom for a very remote part of the state. KTA estimates those travelers spend $10 million a year in the area, with out-of-state visitors spending $115 a day in small towns like Burke, East Haven, Lyndon, and Kirby.
The Kingdom has the feel of Moab in the ’90s, an up-and-coming adventure hub with an old-school feel.
“The idea that a tiny town in the Kingdom would become a destination for bikers throughout the U.S. and Canada could probably be filed in the ‘if you build it, they will come’ story department,” says Drew Simmons, founder of Pale Morning Media, based in Waitsfield, Vermont.
Simmons says the Northeast Kingdom, or the Kingdom, as it’s known, has the feel of Moab in the ’90s, an up-and-coming adventure hub with an old-school feel. But the trails are all modern and flowy. “Back in the day, New England riding was nasty, rough and rocky, and KT set the trend of extensive and seemingly endless rideable and fun trails,” says Simmons. “It didn’t just find the sweet spot, it created it. Even their lift-accessed DH has the full range of trails, from big table top kickers to super fun and flowy trails that you can take your kids on.”
But riding trails on private land requires participation on everyone’s part. In December 2019, KTA announced that three landowners would be shutting off access to the trails on their properties in a popular area known as Darling Hill. An increase in users and poor rider behavior was cited as speculative reasons for the closure.
KTA recently conducted a capacity study to address growth, is hosting public workshops, and is opening a new welcome center that’ll continue to educate riders about responsible recreation on private land. “The solution is listening,” KTA executive director Abby Long told the Mountain Flyer. “To proceed responsibly, have a sustainable future, and be good stewards, we have to be engaged in the community who so graciously host us and listen to the landowners who allow us to even exist.”
If you’re visiting the Northeast Kingdom, or any trails anywhere for that matter, remember to ride with gratitude.
It’s a good reminder to trail users everywhere: If you’re visiting the Northeast Kingdom, or any trails anywhere for that matter, remember to ride with gratitude. Protect the natural environment, be kind to others, and don’t forget to thank your trail builders, land managers, and volunteers who help keep these trails open for everyone.
“Kingdom Trails makes everyone happy,” says Karrie Thomas, director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. “It has a great vibe that makes you feel like you belong right away. And then you get on the trails. Beginners, experts, flow, or technical, there is so much to choose from. You can’t go wrong.”