Clearing the path

Volunteers helping keep Ames Nowell trails open

As the sun set on October 7, a brief but fierce storm blew across Abington. It was a derecho, a long line of straight wind that gusted up to 70 miles per hour just as the sun was setting. The storm lasted only a few minutes, but the wall of wind snapped scores of hardwood trees across Abington, knocking out power to nearly 1,000 homes. 

That night and the following day, chain saws could be heard all over town as homeowners and the town’s public works crews cleaned up the mess. 

Work was also underway inside Ames Nowell State Park to clear massive trees and limbs from the network of biking and hiking trails that criss-cross deep within the 700-acre reservation.

The remnants of a large oak tree in Ames Nowell State Park that was blown over during the Oct. 7 derecho. A popular bike path can be seen at the top of the downed tree. [Photo: Rick Collins]

The effort wasn’t led by state park rangers or tree removal crews, rather a few members of a passionate fraternity of mountain bike riders who regularly donate their time and energy to maintaining the park’s trails. 

“I want everyone who comes out here to have an enjoyable experience,” said Billy Mulvey, a member of the southeast chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association.

The focus for most visitors at Ames Nowell are the easy walking paths that run alongside Cleveland Pond, and connect the dozen or so large glacial boulders found predominantly around the southern end of the park. The western half of the park, however, is a popular playground for mountain bikers who love the technical challenge Ames Nowell presents, with its spines of rocky outcroppings, twisting trails, sudden grade changes, and other features. 

“The whole park is a feature. It’s an amazing park for mountain bikers,” said Mulvey, who estimates there’s about 10 bikers who ride the park religiously. “It challenges you… it makes you a better rider everywhere else.”

Abington resident Kenny O’Sullivan is one of those who frequents Ames Nowell. He started mountain bike riding after looking for something active he could do beyond organized sports.

“Ames Nowell seems to go unnoticed until people get out there and see how much it can have to offer,” said O’Sullivan.

The park contains miles of trails and loops for both hikers and riders. The mountain bikers worked earlier this year to formally create a pair of 2-mile loops in the northwest corner of the park.

Due to budget constraints, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation does not assign any full-time staff to Ames Nowell; rangers from Wompatuck State Park in Hingham provide oversight as needed. As a result, maintaining trails and keeping them clear has increasingly depended upon help from volunteers. 

Billy Mulvey, of Brockton, fixing some of the spindles on a bridge at Ames Nowell State Park. Mulvey is a frequent mountain bike rider at the 700-acre reservation, and helps keep trails clean and maintained. [Photo: Rick Collins]

“We’re generally the first to get to most fallen trees because we can travel around the park a little faster on bikes,” said Kenny O’Sullivan, a rider from Abington known as Kaos. “On a good day we can cover 10 miles of trails in 2 hours.”

The riders say they carry small folding saws with them that lets them quickly take care of smaller limbs and trunks. For larger jobs they’ll make a mental note and come back with a pocket chainsaw, consisting of a small length of chain with handles on each end. They try to avoid using gas-powered tools as much as possible.  

Mulvey estimates he cleared more than 45 trees this fall starting with an early morning storm on Sept. 30, after the Oct. 7 derecho, and through other weather events in November. He also spent time over the summer maintaining a number of the hiking and biking trails by cutting back some of the low-growth bushes that start to narrow the pathways, scratch legs, and stick in gears.  

During a hike through Ames Nowell this fall, Mulvey showed off the remnants of a large oak tree that had fallen down during the Oct. 7 storm and had blocked a popular biking trail near the northern end of the pond (The site takes more than 45 minutes to get to by foot). On this day, the tree lay cut up into sections and moved off the main path. 

“This trail would have been completely shut down for days,” said Mulvey, who lives in Brockton.

For the mountain bikers, they’re giving back a little bit of time and energy to a place that gives them so much enjoyment.

“We believe that if you ride at a park frequently, then you should do what you can to help keep trails clear for all park users,” O’Sullivan said.

Before and after photos show some of the efforts of volunteers to keep Ames Nowell trails open to hikers and mountain bikers. (Photos courtesy of Billy Mulvey)
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