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Mountain biking on the rise in St. Lawrence County

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Mountain biking is on the rise in St. Lawrence County, and as the weather turns warmer, the region’s most avid bikers are looking forward to a new season.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of growth in trail riding as a form of exercise,” said Michael Klein, head of the St. Lawrence Mountain Biking Association and owner of Wear on Earth, a Potsdam store selling equipment for outdoor sports.

Mr. Klein has been taking his bike onto steep hills and dirt trails for the last five years. He founded the association about three years ago, when he realized the sport was gaining in popularity but still disorganized.

“Because of the land usage issues, we were a little bit disjointed as a mountain biking community,” he said.

Mountain bikers use trails on both public and private land, and it is the association’s job to make sure the bikers do not cause too much wear and tear to paths shared by hikers and skiers.

Every spring, in early April, the association’s 10 to 15 members clear the county’s trails of debris and make sure they are in good shape for the season. The most important thing is making sure the trails have proper drainage so that water runs immediately off the trail instead of down it, which would worsen the effects of erosion.

The association follows guidelines set by the International Mountain Bike Association.

“As a group, following these standards, we’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Mr. Klein said.

Some of the most popular trails are on Clarkson University’s campus and in Down- erville State Forest in Russell. The highlight, though, is the Stone Valley trails in Colton and Parishville, according to Mark Simon, who has been mountain biking in the area since the 1980s.

“You can ride them and just get a really great ride,” he said. The trails draw hikers and skiers because of their varied terrain and vistas of waterfalls on the Raquette River, and bikers appreciate them for the steep downhill drops that provide the adrenaline rush so many of them seek.

“You work to gain the elevation and you want to enjoy the downhills,” Mr. Simon said.

Mr. Simon is the Wilderness Education Program coordinator at SUNY Potsdam, which gives him plenty of chances to tell his students to hit the trails.

He attributes the rise in popularity to a more general growth in the number of people who want to take their exercise outdoors. Mountain biking has a higher barrier to entry than other outdoor activities, though; a good dual-suspension mountain bike capable of tackling difficult trails can cost from $1,000 to $6,000.

Mr. Simon works to maintain the Stone Valley trails in his free time, and this summer he will be working with the St. Lawrence Mountain Biking Association to construct a new trail in the valley for beginners and intermediate riders.

Mr. Klein said he doesn’t know whether the trail will be complete this season because there is still plenty of red tape that must be cleared before construction can begin.

Mountain biking’s newfound popularity has proven to be a business booster for Mr. Klein. Wear on Earth started selling bikes and biking equipment about five years ago, and it now accounts for more than 30 percent of his sales, largely replacing the share once held by canoes and kayaks.

“Biking is becoming a really integral part of our business,” he said.

Mr. Klein said better trails will draw more people. He sees plenty of Canadian tourists when he is out on his rides, and he said he hopes mountain bikers one day will see St. Lawrence County as a destination.

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