Clubs see uptick in participation in central Maine

As COVID-19 restrictions have loosened in Maine throughout the spring and into the summer, residents of central Maine are heading outdoors.

Among those spring and summer activities are bicycling. Central Maine clubs have seen an uptick in participation this season.

“(The rides) have actually picked up quite a bit,” said Jim Merrick, a member of the Kennebec Valley Bicycle Club.

The KVBC hosts weekly group rides throughout central Maine. A recent ride in Readfield, titled “The Maranacook Meander,” attracted as many as 31 riders, according to the KVBC’s Facebook page.

“That was a nice day,” Merrick said. “And that was during Memorial Day weekend, which I thought was kind of interesting that there were a lot of people still around and came out for the ride.”

The group’s next ride will be the “Winsome Winslow” on Sunday in Winslow, followed by the “Beyond the Pale,” in Palermo on July 17.

Chris Riley, president of the central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association (or CeMeNEMBA) — a group that helps build and maintain area biking trails and provides guided tours to promote area riding — said the group is once again hosting rides, which it did not do last year.

“It’s going really well, it’s definitely shifted, interestingly enough,” Riley said. “Now we’re back to having group rides. We’ve got two group rides pretty much every week — or three sometimes — and they’re pretty well attended. Last year, we didn’t have any group rides. That’s a huge plus.”

Riley said numbers have dropped slightly on volunteers for the group’s trail work, but believes that may have been due to the weekly maintenance get-togethers (known as Tuesday Night Trails) last year.

“Some of us, last year, we were doing that every single week,” Riley said. “I think we got a little tired. I think there’s a little bit of a respite going on, but there’s still a lot of trail building going on and trail work going on, it’s just a little different than last year.”

CeMeNEMBA is close to wrapping up its latest project, according to Riley, which will be connecting the Kerns Hill trail in Manchester to the Hallowell Reservoir trail.

“It’s about a mile and a half of trail, and that will be done in about a couple week,” Riley said.

Both the KVBC and CeMeNEMBA managed to host events last year during the pandemic, but were handcuffed by state COVID restrictions. For the KVBC, this meant hosting rides with lower numbers and staggered starts.

“Last year, of course, was a real challenge,” Merrick said. “We actually kept riding all through last year. But initially, we were only allowed to have 10 people ride, had to use staggered starts in some cases. We didn’t stop at stores or have post-ride gatherings like we’ve had in the past. Of course, one of the challenges last year is, everyone got interested in bicycling, but we really couldn’t attract too many people (due to COVID restrictions). We were somewhat limited in that regard. But there are new people coming out this year, and some of the people from last year who didn’t come out for various reasons have started to come out again.”

“I think the energy and the uptick in interest has only increased,” Riley said. “It’s really pretty cool that (interest in biking) wasn’t just a blip on the radar (during the pandemic). It feels like it might be more consistent, and we might be in for an increase over the long haul for cycling.”

Cycling in Maine has seen some ups and downs already in 2021. One of Maine’s most prominent rides, the Trek Across Maine, was held as a virtual event for the second consecutive year. An event that benefits the American Lung Association, riders were once again allowed to pick a distance goal — 60, 120 or 180 miles — by June 30. The Trek Across Maine website has already announced a plan to return as an in-person event next year. The annual BikeMaine event, put on by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, was canceled in January, due to the pandemic.

Riley said CeMeNEMBA will have its yearly fundraising ride, known as the Bond Brook Tread Fest, in September in Augusta. The ride was originally scheduled for June, but moved due to the outbreak of Browntail moth within the city.

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