POWNAL — Erik Dombrowik rolled into the parking lot at Bradbury Mountain State Park and couldn’t wait to get on his mountain bike. Since taking up the sport last summer, Dombrowik has been riding here every week during the warm weather. He credits the 22-mile network of knobby, single-track trails with his improvement.

But Dombrowik said he hears many say the trails have deteriorated. Other riders agree.

“The trails are very rooty and rocky. I don’t know what it was like 10 years ago. I have heard people say it’s become more rooty,” said Dombrowik, of Freeport. “There are usually quite a few cars here in the parking lot. But I’ve never seen it full.”

A decade ago cars carrying mountain bikes poured into Bradbury as armies of riders rode after work. Now many riders in greater Portland say they don’t ride at Bradbury that much, in part because other trail systems now exist. And riders who helped build the Bradbury trail system in 2006 say the state has allowed the trails to erode and degrade.

“It was the best we had. It was new, it was original and it was the only real option,” said Brian Stearns of Freeport. “Now with the soil becoming so compressed at Bradbury, nobody is going out there. It’s a root festival.”

This year, for the first time, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands received a federal Recreational Trails Program grant of $49,760 to improve the trails at Bradbury, said Gary Best, the bureau’s regional manager. He said a six-member crew from the Maine Conservation Corps spent six weeks this summer repairing bridges and culverts, and moving gravel to fill in the trail. The crew will return for a second six-week period this fall. Best said in the past the crew has worked on Bradbury’s trails, but never for more than four weeks in any given year.

Chris Silsbee, in his first year as park manager, said about 50 percent of the trail system will get the gravel fill needed to stop erosion. He’s hoping another federal grant next year can complete the work.

Silsbee, who came to Bradbury after 14 years working as a backwoods ranger in northern Maine, said he wants Bradbury to regain its status as a mountain bike destination.

‘NO SUCH THING AS A MAINTENANCE-FREE TRAIL’

Jed Talbot, owner of OBP Trailworks in Turner, said trails need to be maintained to avoid rocks and roots becoming prominent. Talbot said once roots erupt on a trail and become prominent, the trail becomes “braided,” with riders forming spider-web paths around the obstacle.

This is the case at Bradbury in several sections.

“It just gets worse and worse,” said Talbot, a trail builder of 20 years who has worked on projects across the country from the White Mountain National Forest to Utah’s Zion National Park. He has not been involved in the trail construction at Bradbury.

“There is no such thing as a maintenance-free trail, just as there is no such thing as a maintenance-free car,” Talbot said. “But if you can construct trails in a sustainable way you drastically reduce the environmental cost and the maintenance cost.”

In 2006, former Bradbury Park manager Mick Rogers recruited local mountain bikers to help build the trail system. Riders did so with gusto and the technical single-track trails soon became the premier system in Maine.

The next year Casco Bay Sports owner Pat Hackleman rolled out a 12-hour mountain bike race at Bradbury, and it soon drew riders from as far as Quebec and Tennessee. Bradbury was officially a regional draw. The annual race is capped at 300 riders and still sells out each year.

Hackleman called the Bradbury trails classic Maine mountain biking.

“Last week I did a fantastic ride combining both the mountain side trails and east side trails,” Hackleman said. “The ride was fast, flowy and fun. Bradbury’s terrain has always been semi-technical due to the nature of the terrain’s rocks and root systems. … Bradbury supplements the local mountain bike scene in its own unique way.”

Other riders such as Stearns and Kent Simmons, who helped found the now-defunct Friends of Bradbury to help maintain the trails, said interest from the state fizzled after Rogers left the park in 2007.

“It wasn’t uncommon to have 25 riders at a volunteer trail day,” Simmons said. “We went along with all this energy and we were getting support from the state with material, and having wood transported to the trails and fill. At that time Bradbury was the 800-pound gorilla where everyone rode. (Then) I think people wanted to ride near where they lived. But I also think the state stopped supporting us.”

‘IT COMES DOWN TO FUNDING’

Best said the trails at Bradbury have remained on the radar of the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

“I wouldn’t say we’re just leaving things,” Best said. “We are taking active steps, keeping the park a premier mountain-bike destination. It comes down to funding. To do the more intensive work we need to get the funding. Obviously we can look for money elsewhere within our own budget. But right now having secured those grants, we are able to do quite a bit.”

In recent years, as new chapters of the New England Mountain Bike Association started to spring up around Maine, other trail systems were built in Portland, Camden and Augusta.

But local riders say despite the dispersion of traffic, Bradbury’s trails continued to erode.

“Bradbury is this really fragile ecosystem,” Simmons said. “The soil structure is kind of thin. A lot of those trails, to stay ridable, need to have fill.”

Wendy Clark, a rider of 22 years, bought a home in Freeport partly because of Bradbury’s trails. But it’s no longer one of her favorite places to ride.

“It has gone downhill,” Clark said, “but I don’t think the park is a lost cause. I think it still could be good if there were resources to improve the trails.”

A few weeks ago, as A.J. Hudacs pulled out his mountain bike at Bradbury, he talked about how he appreciates the trail system’s convenience. He arrived after work at 6:30 p.m. and planned to ride for more than an hour, finishing with a headlamp.

But Hudacs said he worries about the future of the trails.

“The trails were a great initiative by the original creator,” Hudacs said. “I hope there are continued efforts to maintain existing trails.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

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