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Public Comment Yarmouth: Feasibility of Bicycles in the Pratt’s Brook Park

By November 15, 2015Our Position

Summary Statement

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is the statewide organization working to make Maine better for bicycling and walking. After a site walk in the park on November 4, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine finds that there are no insurmountable design or construction problems in Pratt’s Brook Park that would preclude bicycles from using the park. We believe that the permitting the use is feasible, and would have multiple benefits to the town with manageable downsides.

General Observations

The Pratt’s Brook Park in Yarmouth is 220 acre park with 7 miles of trail open to walking and cross country skiing. The trails that were observed on a site walk on November 4—Moose, Raccoon, Bear and part of Deer– were primarily “double-track” trails that averaged about 10 feet wide, and appear to have been maintained with a tractor equipped with field (rather than turf) tires and a brush-hog mowing deck. Some of these trails, at least, appear to have originally been roads at one time. These trails were in generally good condition, and exhibited typical features of established “legacy” trails in this part of Maine—some root elevation, some wet spots, some fall-line alignments etc. Soils appeared to be loamy or clay like.
The park is currently closed to use by bicycles and ATVs. It is our understanding that the prohibition on these uses is a discretionary management policy.

Feasibility Considerations

In assessing the feasibility of opening Pratt’s Brook Park to bicycles, whether just to create a single off-road connection between Granite Street and North Road, or to permit use of the park trails in general, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine considered conditions and potential impacts on representative trails of the park trail system. In general, there appears to be no compelling resource protection reason to ban bicycles in this park. The trails are currently maintained with large motorized vehicles that have compacted the treadways of most of the trails without visible damage. Using bicycles on the trails, even with higher frequency, is unlikely to cause more damage than tractors running field tires. From a resource protection perspective, we do not believe that permitting bicycles on trails such as the ones we examined during the site walk would adversely impact the park. Similar trail systems open to bikes exist on similar landforms throughout the region, e.g. Pinelands.

Limited Resource Impacts

Any negative effects resulting from opening trails to bicycles would be limited to impacts in a few wet areas and possibly some fall-line trail segments. The wet areas identified on the site walk were limited in size and would be easily improved with some trail hardening (techniques for which Yarmouth has considerable expertise in as a result of the town’s work on the West Side Trail). We recommend some hardening of treadways whether the policy regarding bicycles is changed or not. We also recommend that fall-line sections that exceed 10-15% grades (e.g. the steep slope down the bridge on the Bear Trail) be rerouted with climbing turns to reduce damage from erosion, which is already occurring.

Limited User Conflicts

Given the width and straightness of some of the trails in Pratt’s Brook, some user conflicts caused by speeding riders may occur, but with signage and some changes in trail design, these conflicts can be minimized and managed. Furthermore, because the trails are generally wide and smooth, they will be most appealing to newer off-road riders, who are unlikely to be riding too fast, and less appealing to faster, high skilled riders who prefer more narrow and technical trails.

Other Considerations

Beyond the inherent feasibility of permitting and managing bicycles in Pratt’s Brook, there are additional compelling reasons for the town to consider a change in management policy to open the park to bikes. The terrain in Pratt’s Brook is ideal for families and newcomers to explore off-road riding, which is a fun, healthy activity that builds bicycle-handling competencies useful for utilitarian and recreational on road riding. Yarmouth is currently engaged with encouraging and supporting bicycle use in town; opening Pratt’s Brook would be consistent with that effort.
Opening the trails at Pratt’s Brook to bikes would also help to disperse some of the concentrated use of the West Side Trail and thereby help protect and preserve another important town open space resource. In its current state, however, we feel that Pratt’s Brook Park is unlikely to be an important destination for higher skilled, faster riders, who prefer more challenging trails, so we do not anticipate that there would be significant user conflicts from this group.

There is a great need for introductory trails in the area, and if Pratt’s Brook Park was open, it is likely that both the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Off Road Education Program and the local chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, Greater Portland NEMBA, would become available as an additional maintenance resources. These organizations could commit funds, tools, and volunteer time to help preserve and improve the riding conditions to the benefit of all users, and at reduced costs to the town.
Should the management policy on bikes in the park change, BCM would be willing to offer Yarmouth two “Cyclists Must Alert When Passing” signs to post on the Moose Trail, which appears to be the primary route between North Road and Berryfield Road. These signs could help kick start the education process for this new user group in the park.

Recommendations

    • Inventory all areas in the park that require hardening and plan to address wet spots, whether or not the park gets opened for bicycles.
    • Inventory all areas in the park where trail alignments are causing erosion, and plan to reroute to mitigate such problems, whether or not the park gets opened for bicycles.
    • Open the Moose Trail as an off-road connection between North Road and Berryfield Rd.
    • Open the trails to bicycles on an interim basis for one season to assess impacts.

Thank you.
James C. Tassé, PhD

Assistant Director
Bicycle Coalition of Maine
http://www.yarmouthcommunityservices.org/maps/Pratts%20Brook%20Ledger%20aerial%20b lend4-12-13.jpg