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Mountain Bike Day to climb from river to falls

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RUSSELL — Mountain bikers with a craving to climb are getting their wish.

Members of the St. Lawrence Mountain Biking Association are holding a Mountain Bike Day next weekend to introduce enthusiasts of the sport to a network of trails in Downerville State Forest in the town of Russell.

James L. Akins, 65, is a member of the association and helped to build the network of trails that climb the hills of the state forest from the north branch of the Grasse River to Harper Falls in the town of Clare.

Mr. Akins said bikers will meet Saturday at what is called the “Gravel Pit” to get a tour of the 14 miles of trails.

“We are going to have a ride at 10 a.m. and a ride at 1 p.m.,” he said. “The whole idea of having the mountain bike day out here is to let people know that we have a trail system out here.”

The goal is to have a good time and to explore the trails, including 2 miles of new trails created during the summer on the south side of the river.

Mr. Akins said credit for the existence of these trails has to be given to his friend Stephen D. Papson, a professor at St. Lawrence University, Canton.

“I met him three years ago and started teaming up with him to build new trails,” Mr. Akins said. “Without Steve Papson, we would not have a trail system at Downerville State Forest. It is his vision that has brought these trails to fruition.”

About six years ago, Mr. Papson put together a freshmen experience class and brought some young people to the state forest to do trail work along the river, Mr. Akins said. During the semester, they reconstructed the River Trail all the way to Harper Falls.

That was the beginning of the trail system, which is made up of trails wide enough only for mountain bikes to travel in single file. The trails twist and turn along with the valleys and rivers. Be warned, this is not an area for beginners.

“That is something important for people to know,” Mr. Akins said. “Not that we didn’t want some trails to be easy, but the terrain is what it is. There is a lot of up-and-down and we have this area that is basically on the side of a hill, and it is all single-track.”

Aunt Mary’s Climb is a 200-foot incline that has 17 switchbacks that wind up the hill because of how steep it is, Mr. Akins said.

The trail named Sling Shot is a one-way ticket down to the river with seven big turns in it.

“You can’t ride up this because it is so steep,” Mr. Akins said. “So you go down and you just let her go, and then there is a long run out at the end.”

Mr. Akins’s favorite starting point, Nicky’s Loop, is named after his 5-year-old golden retriever and leads to the peak elevation of 1,050 feet.

The association has started collaborating with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop the trails and has signed a user agreement to adopt a natural resource.

“The local DEC forester, Aaron Graves, has been very supportive of our efforts,” Mr. Akins said. “The DEC wants to have this area for outdoor recreation. Aaron has walked every mile of the system with us. His plans are to have the trails on a DEC map and website.”

For more information about Mountain Bike Day, including directions, contact Mr. Akins at akinsacres@gmail.com.

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