These Trails Are Made for Biking!

Volunteers travel to Millinocket for trail-building and life-changing

Growing up, Kay Sides and Dylan Collins weren’t really outdoorsy. Kay describes a childhood spent in cities and suburbs of Southern California. Dylan hadn’t traveled much beyond his small hometown in Virginia.These two, along with eight other AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers from across the country, are finishing up a month-long stay in the Katahdin region of Maine, a world away from their predictable lives at home.

Rising at dawn, working long days, in cold, rainy, rugged environment—these two are energized, if not transformed, by the experience. “The rewards are tangible,” says Matt Polstein, Executive Director of Katahdin Area Trails and founder of the New England Outdoor Center, which have hosted their stay. “This AmeriCorps team helped us complete a critical 5-mile mountain biking loop, which is designed to be a significant lure for tourists to this region of Maine. Along the way, I think they’ve experienced some of the enormous recreational value this area has to offer, and they’ve basically fallen in love with the natural world.”

“I am a changed person,” says Kay, noting that as a child, a day outside meant basically going to the beach. “It was easy to get used to that bubble,” she laughs. But over the course of a month at NEOC, Kay has been whitewater rafting on Class IV rapids, hiking into pristine wilderness areas, watched the sun rise from a canoe on a wilderness lake, seen a night sky like one only dreams about, and tested her skills on a fat bike.

“Being out there in the wilderness – it’s like my happy place now,” she says.

Building Trails for Economic Development

The purpose of the AmeriCorps NCCC visit was to help complete the build out of 5-miles of mountain bike trails for Katahdin Area Trails, a nonprofit organization, founded in 2014 and dedicated to revitalizing the economy of the Katahdin region through the development of destination mountain biking and x-country ski trails. The group of 10 volunteers has been lodging with NEOC as their home base.

“We’ve been putting in eight- to ten-hour days building bike trails,” says Dylan. The work involves hauling and spreading gravel and getting intimate with pick axes, rakes, shovels, and mosquitoes. The difficulty, on a scale of one to ten? “Probably an eight or nine,” admits Dylan.

A Place to Call Home

Kay, Dylan and the team of AmeriCorps volunteers worked hard over their month-long stay at NEOC, but they were blessed with much better than average accommodations and some amazing comforts to enhance their stay.

“We are so thankful for the housing at NEOC,” says Kay. “We already knew that the lodging would be amazing – but because it was the off season, NEOC decided to put us up in their new lakehouses.”These enormous cabins offer cathedral ceilings, comfortable beds, heated floors, woodstoves, full kitchens and baths, and other exceptional amenities.

“After a 10-hour day hauling gravel and digging trenches, it is so nice to come home to this place,” says Kay. Over Memorial Day weekend, when NEOC was booked up for the launch of the summer tourist season, the trail-makers moved to the Penobscot Outdoor Center for an off- the-grid camping-style experience. Here, they enjoyed time on a wilderness lake away from their cell phones.“It was amazing to see the night sky – I had never seen anything like it before,” said Dylan.Kay and another volunteer were so moved that they struck out in a canoe over Pockwockamus Pond in the pre-dawn hours to watch the sun rise.

“The staff and the great accommodations were amazing,” says Dylan. “They really kept-up the morale of the team.”

“NEOC has been spoiling us from day one,” said Kay.“They have made all kinds of experiences possible for us, they fed us amazing meals, and treated us like family.”

On their day off, this energetic AmeriCorps team volunteered for a service project at the Millinocket Public Library, which is undergoing a massive renovation project. On a sunny Saturday, in June, these volunteers moved 20,000 books. “This kind of service to a rural community like Millinocket is not only impressive, it’s invaluable” said Polstein.

Find out More

Click here to learn more about AmeriCorps

Click here to learn about the Katahdin Area Trails Project

Click here to find lodging at NEOC