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How Harris Hill Ext. happened.
Written by Thom Wright   
Thursday, 03 March 2011 00:00

Becoming a WNIMBY (why not in my back yard?)

The Why and How of the Harris Hill Extension off of East Overland Trail in Gerry, NY.


In 2004, the closest trail to my house was the 4 mile out and back of the East Overland Trail (Harris Hill Section) off of Route 50. It is only 12 minutes away from my door, so I was there 2 to 3 times per week, but being an out and back it’s thrill factor declined over time.

I would venture down to Allegany and E’ville (McCarty Hill Area) to get “premium rides” in, but that meant 30-45 minutes each way. Minutes I could be riding. It was during one of those trips down to E’ville I bumped into a few guys who were jabbering about how they had helped build the trail system. So I got selfish, I realized that these wonderful sections of single track were on State land. I wanted a better ride, closer to home, so I became a WNIMBY.

I figured I needed to get involved with the local Forestry Service somehow, so I sent off a letter to the NYS DEC Region 9, asking if there was anything I could help with. Stephen Smith, Senior Forester helped set up a Stewardship Agreement with me for that section of trail. All it really meant was I would remove any garbage I came across, and keep the office apprised of any blow-downs, damage or other concerns. Oh, I almost forgot, I got a nice stewardship patch as well.

The following year I asked about the possibility of scratching a small loop in the area that was recently forested on the corner of 28 Mile Creek and Harris Hill Roads. I figured the area was torn up by the machines, so since it was already in turmoil, it might be ripe for single track. Mr. Smith didn’t agree. Instead, he came back with the suggestion of using the area that had been forested a few years earlier, an area I had explored but hadn’t yet dared to ask about. We walked the area one afternoon with him detailing the boundaries and possible trouble spots (swamps, poison ivy).

Prior to getting to work, I read books, articles and web sites on proper trail building methods as well as collecting a few tools that would help me in my venture. There is a wealth of information out there as long as you are willing to spend some time looking for it.

In Early Spring, I walked the skid roads attempting to figure out the best way around the area. There was some elevation to play with along with a few ridges and gorges to follow. The skid roads became a blessing and a curse, they allowed for quick trail development, they were down to the clay soil, not a lot of saplings or leaf litter, but they were also home to the nastiest thorn bushes that I have ever seen.

The skid road trails were a no brainer, just try to stay on the higher side and toss in a few turns when possible. Now developing new single track, that’s where the fun is…Warning! Blazing new single track is fun, but can become highly addictive. You walk it, flag it, walk it, walk it, reflag it, walk it re-reflag it, perhaps take a friend out to walk it and re-re-reflag it. I still second guess myself at times and have to make a conscious effort not to flag more than I can actually work. Once satisfied, you get your hands dirty, there are a few choice tools out there, and it is very rewarding riding on something you helped create.

For the first 4 years, the trail crew has comprised of…well…me. But in the Summer of 2009, the trial deity decided to send me some help. A chance exchange on WNYMBA’s website and Torry at Hollyloft pointed a few folks my way, and I have to say 2009 summer’s trail development was fantastic. It’s simple mathematics : more folks + more tools = more trail.

In 2010, we were able to continue to improve the conditions out at Harris Hill by some reroutes, and mitigating some chronic wet areas. We had the chance to discuss access issues and problem solve with the local horse riders. We became involved with Chautauqua County Greenway Plan that is being developed to increase resident and tourist recreation in the area. This coming season, we hope to increase the total mileage of the Extension up to somewhere near 8 miles, and if that happens early, there is another 2.5 miles flagged, as well as another section currently being considered.

So, if you are selfish like me, and want more sweet single track within Chautauqua County, drop me an email, join the site, www.harrishillext.webs.com If you can’t find the time to put in some trail work, don’t sweat it, come on out and just ride. I hope you enjoy the extension. I know I will.

Thom Wright
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