For 35 years, the Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA) has been advocating for, building, and maintaining community and backcountry trails for ski touring, mountain biking, and other human powered sports in the greater High Peaks Region. As they’ve worked to connect and nurture community-based trail systems, covering 125 miles and counting, their positive impacts have had ripple effects that are helping to build more connected communities, too. Adirondack Foundation has been proud to support their work through Generous Acts, especially in response to the pandemic’s unforeseen impacts and the importance of healthy recreation as an antidote.
Foundation board member and Generous Acts supporter Carolyn Sicher caught up with BETA Executive Director, Josh Wilson, and board member, Kaley Basile, at the new Cobble Hill trailhead in Elizabethtown to find out what their secret ingredient is for fostering a strong community, both on and off the trails.
AF: How has BETA fostered greater involvement from young people in the area?
JW: With the next generation and groups like the Hardy Kids in Wilmington, X-Chromes in Elizabethtown, and SLICK in Saranac Lake, it’s youth-driven. They’re coming together because they’re interested – it’s not the parents forcing them into it. We do everything we can to support them and it’s great that they’re taking it on to get the groups going while seeing us as a partner.
KB: These groups are the reason we’re building these intermediate and beginner-level trails, so that young people feel comfortable and they have something to ride. We’re also helping make connections for youth groups to do clinics through other partnerships.
AF: The trail networks that BETA is working to strengthen come together to build a larger network – overlapping, twisting, and turning – reflects the many ways Adirondack communities come together holistically. Can you speak a little more to the camaraderie of BETA and how you help to strengthen communities?
I think that’s something unique to mountain biking – it’s an equalizer. If you have a group ride with ten people, there could be a teacher, a plumber, a lawyer, a doctor, and a dishwasher. It’s a social function for a lot of people. And there are so many people getting into it – it’s not just people moving here, but locals who are saying, “Hey I’m going to try it” – and they stick with it. There's a sense of encouragement and welcomeness." -Josh Wilson
AF: With all the work BETA is doing in creating and improving community-based trail systems, do you think that’s a factor in attracting new residents to the area?
JW: It’s one of those added benefits. I can definitely see it happening. I’ve talked to people who say, “I wanted to move here, but the trails did it for me.”
KB: I first got involved with BETA when I moved to the E-town area for work. A big draw is that this is a very active community. Getting involved in the cross country skiing scene and then mountain biking later, you can’t help but come across someone who is in BETA or affiliated with it. It’s part of the reason I wanted to stay here and live here.
AF: What’s on the horizon for BETA and what do you plan to do with your Generous Acts grant in the near future?
JW: Our grant was born out of the start of the pandemic when we saw the rush for everybody to be outside and on the trails. It was an eye opener for us that we have more work to do in terms of outreach and developing resources to engage trail users. We’ve been talking about a trail ambassador program for a while, similar to the front-country model being used in Keene to address trail use by hikers, and we’re looking to pilot that and get it going. We’re also developing plans to reach new volunteers and get more people in the community engaged with adopting trails.
Nearly $600,000 was awarded in Generous Acts grants this year to meet pressing needs and support important initiatives in local communities across the Adirondack region.