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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Plans for a new bike “pump track” in Middlebury

<p>The new Middlebury Pump Track would be sited at Middlebury Recreation Park.</p>

The new Middlebury Pump Track would be sited at Middlebury Recreation Park.

A new bike pump track is in the works to be sited at the Middlebury Recreation Park, located off Route 7 just south of the Middlebury town center. 

Bike “pump tracks” are dirt loops consisting of ‘rollers’ and ‘berms,’ or small bumps in the track and banked turns, which allow a biker to travel across without pedaling. These tracks allow for other recreational options for bikers in addition to traditional bike trails. 

The pump track initiative is primarily led by Erik Remsen, who is a member of the Addison County Bike Club (ACBC), a local mountain biking club, and the Community Partnership Council, a group associated with the Addison County School District (ACSD). According to ACSD’s website, “[The Council’s mission] is to develop and strengthen relationships within our communities to create strong partnerships that support student success.”

The Council has served as a liaison between the school district and the community. Especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Remsen said in a phone interview with The Campus, “that group has been really focused on … what we can do to both kind of bring a little joy into the schools”. 

The “pump track” project is a product of the work and ideas of the ACBC and the Community Partnership Council, and has been an ongoing idea for several years. A member of the biking community in Middlebury, Remsen opted to take on this project. 

“This is my first time doing something like this, so it’s been quite the learning experience for me,” he said. 

Since the idea first formed, support has been consistent and ongoing from the Middlebury Parks and Recreation Department as well as the ACBC. The committee has worked closely with ACBC to attain funding and help with moving along the project. This partnership will continue in constructing and maintaining the track. 

When the idea for a Middlebury pump track was first introduced, the primary barrier to construction was finding a site for the track. Now that a school district council has undertaken the project, the track can be sited at Middlebury Recreation Park, since the ACSD owns the park, Remsen said.

The pump track will serve many purposes once completed, including community and educational components. The track will allow students and teachers at Mary Hogan Elementary School to conduct their spring biking unit there. The track will also be free and accessible to the public at all times of day, offering another recreational opportunity for the Middlebury community. 

“We saw during the pandemic the need for these free, accessible, local recreation opportunities and just having a multitude of them,” Remsen said.

The committee has worked with the ACBC to secure a Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) Naming Grant. As a member of VMBA, the club was able to apply for a grant funded through Cabot Cheese, which owns a cheese manufacturing plant on Exchange Street in Middlebury. Given this community presence, Cabot Cheese created a grant in support of biking projects in Middlebury, explained George Lawrence, president of the ACBC. The pump track committee and the Bike Club layed out a proposal to Cabot Cheese emphasizing the importance of a pump track in Middlebury, and ultimately secured the $5,000 grant for the track. 

“Middlebury tends to have a little bit trickier trails. We don’t have a lot of beginner trails, unfortunately,” Lawrence said. Thus, an accessible and beginner-friendly pump track would play an important role in the local biking community. 

Support for the project is wide-ranging in the Middlebury community. When the pump track committee approached the Town Selectboard, support from the board was unanimous. In addition to support from the Bike Club and the ACSD, Remsen mentioned that Karen Duguay, executive director of the Better Middlebury Partnership, also voiced support. The project has seen little resistance, but what opposition it has faced from the community primarily concerned the location as preventing the park from being used in a different way. 

The ACSD Community Partnership Council undertook a similar project in the winter of 2021. The Council worked in conjunction with the town of Middlebury to create an outdoor ice rink on the recreation fields near Mary Hogan Elementary School. 

Furthermore, Remsen and others involved in the pump track project are also working on the ongoing project to build a skate park in Middlebury. Given that building a skate park requires a lot more resources than a dirt pump track, the pump track project is farther along than the skate park project. “These aren’t competitive projects, these are cooperative,” Remsen said. Both work to provide accessible recreational opportunities and facilities for people of all ages.

Work on the pump track project for Remsen and Lawrence currently involves getting all the necessary permits for building the pump track at the Middlebury Recreation Park. This includes consulting both the town of Middlebury and the state of Vermont to ensure there are no outstanding permits needed. “The current challenge at the moment is making sure we’ve gone through the right process to get all those [permits], and have all the ones we need in order to be able to build next summer,” Remsen explained.

Lawrence noted that currently, the pump track committee is working at negotiating the necessity of a stormwater permit. “That hinges on whether or not a dirt track is defined as being an impermeable surface or not,” he said. 

After securing the permits, Remsen, Lawrence and others will need to fundraise over the winter. Some funding has already been secured through the VMBA Naming Grant. In addition to this grant money, the group hopes to crowdsource funding. Once the money is secured, the group is free to work with the design builder to finalize the design of the pump track and figure out where the project fits into the town’s summer 2023 building schedule. Lawrence noted that, as part of its grant, Cabot Cheese intends to involve their employees through local volunteering. 

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“So we’re going to hold a volunteer day… and so we’re hoping that Cabot folks will come out and join us as well as maybe members of the public and the Addison County Bike Club folks,” Lawrence said. The construction of the dirt pump track will involve labor-intensive hand work to shape and grade the track for the final design. 

Once constructed, the pump track will serve an important recreational use. The pump track would support bikers from beginner skill-level to experts, Lawrence said. “It’s something that everyone can enjoy and it’s also something that would be really good to help beginners build skills because that’s important without having to go out and commit,” he said.

Emily Hogan

Emily Hogan '24 (she/her) is a Local Editor.   

She is studying Environmental Policy with a minor in Math. In addition to writing and editing for the Campus, she also dances with the On Tap dance troupe and serves on the Environmental Council. She has previously worked with the Sustainability Solutions Lab at Middlebury.