POLAND — When Thor Smith moved to Lewiston three years ago, he went looking for mountain bike trails close to home. When he discovered the Range Pond State Park trails, he was delighted that within a few miles of the urban center, he could get into the woods and ride along a rushing brook – and there even was a pond to swim in after.

Bonus.

“There are roots and rocks, so they’re challenging. And that’s pretty great you can go for a swim after on a hot day,” said Smith, 47.

What Smith didn’t realize was his local trail network has recently gotten a facelift, along with 10 other trails in the Lewiston-Auburn area, including at the region’s other state park, Androscoggin Riverlands. It’s part of the new synergy between the central Maine chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association and State Park Manager Adam McKay.

In the past year, McKay has put in signs at the trails at Range Pond and Riverlands state parks, while the mountain bike club has taken over the work of trail maintenance by building bog bridges, trimming back the thick woods and blazing the trails.

“I started to work with the club and it’s been instrumental in the popularity of those trails increasing,” said McKay, the ranger of the two parks since 2012. “Traffic has increased at that Range Pond parking lot. We put in a counter last year to get a handle on how many people are out there at Range Pond. It fills up quickly in the summer now. I would say definitely in the past three years there are times that parking lot is full. That never used to be the case.”

Range Pond has about 8 miles of mountain bike trails that are mostly beginner level. Androscoggin Riverlands has just under 30 miles of trails, with a lot more technical sections.

McKay said this summer he’ll give out maps of the trails at Range Pond, and he hopes to get a grant for a waterproof map of the trails at both parks.

Meanwhile, this spring the club will use a $10,000 grant to extend another popular trail network in Auburn at Mount Apatite on the outskirts of town. Here the club will hire a trail company to build 3 miles of new trail to complete an 8-mile trail system, said Chris Riley, the club’s president.

Mountain biker Chip Keene of Poland takes note of the work that’s been done on the new trails.

Riley said that in recent years growing membership in the club that started in Augusta forced the club to expand its scope and also serve the urban area around Lewiston-Auburn. Now Riley envisions a connecting long-distance trail between Mount Apatite and Lost Valley Ski Area.

Riley said all six Maine chapters of the New England Mountain Bike Association have been copying models offered by the state’s 280 snowmobile clubs and 63 ATV clubs that for three decades have built massive interconnecting trail networks.

“There hasn’t been a lot of focus over the past 30 years on trails designed specifically for mountain bikes,” Riley said. “If all goes well we hope to be in a position to get support to build trails like the Eastern Trail in southern Maine, interconnecting trail systems that link to neighborhoods. You could go for miles, and commute.”

Riders in the central Maine club can see it happening.

Patrick Welch, who came to Auburn two weeks ago for a meeting with his company, checked out the Mount Apatite trails after hearing about them for years. Welch rode for an hour and a half on a hot, buggy evening on the mostly intermediate trails. When he finished, he looked like he was coming off vacation.

“I heard about these trails four years ago. They’re flowy and as challenging as you want to make it,” said Welch, of Readfield. “I started riding in the late ’80s. When I started riding there were just ATV trails. Now there’s so much. The central Maine club is ridiculously energized. They have some talented people working on trail building, and a passion for it.”

Two weeks ago on a Sunday morning ride at Range Pond State Park, it was a similar story.

Five riders showed up to join Frank Jalbert, co-owner of Busy Bikes in Auburn and the central Maine club’s vice president. But Jalbert said on another day, the crowd easily could have been five times that.

“The rain yesterday kept everyone away,” Jalbert said. “We’ve had as many as 40 people on the ride.”

The five riders flew around banked trails with very few roots and rocks, and just enough incline to provide some climbing. A few big dips mixed in some challenging sections, but the stretches along the brook were easy enough to take in the views.

Travis Withee of Lewiston was riding there for only the fifth time. He used to live near Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal and rode those well-known technical trails. Withee, 37, appreciates Range Pond’s easier, more beginner-level trails, especially as he comes off shoulder surgery.

“There was a little question if I’d ride today. I’m 87 days from shoulder surgery today. My doctor cleared me. This was fantastic,” Withee said.

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or:

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Twitter: FlemingPph