9-10-2020-Basch-East Bear Paw

Tin Mountain Conservation Center Executive Director Lori Jean Kinsey (right) and Events Coordinator Jotham Oliver welcome mountain bikers and other self-propelled nature lovers to Center Conway’s East Bear Paw trail network. (MARTY BASCH PHOTO)

With the outdoors in vogue due to the coronavirus pandemic, mountain bikers, trail runners, walkers and bird watchers are discovering or reclaiming some close-to-home and under-the-radar properties to play.

One such area is Tin Mountain Conservation Center’s East Bear Paw trail network in Center Conway, a year-round accessible 500-acre parcel with a trailhead along a bend on Route 302 just west of the Fryeburg, Maine, border that also entices cross-country skiers and snowshoers in winter.

Mountain bikers looking to ride family-friendly beginner to intermediate terrain with about 10 miles of trails — and about 13 miles for runners and walkers — will find new wooden bridges throughout the network, largely installed by Tin Mountain’s events coordinator and Bear Paw steward Jotham Oliver. Eastside Bike Guides owner Chris Krug provided consultation and work on the Bridges Trail. Volunteer trail days were scrapped because of COVID-19.

“This was a major overhaul this summer,” said Oliver at the trailhead Friday. “I counted seven or eight bridges that needed new decking or stringers or both.”

Oliver brought in some trail runners to provide input on the foot-traveled Beaver Meadow Loop.

“Basically, we are offering more mileage to trail runners,” he said. “The most beautiful part of the property is now available to trail runners and nature enthusiasts.”

Need a map? Use your smartphone to scan the new QR reader installed last month at the trailhead or snap a photo of the map there. There are also maps located at several trail junctions throughout the mixed hardwood property that continues to be logged.

“You might come upon a fresh logging operation that upsets some people but what you have to realize is that there is a plan behind this,” said Tin Mountain’s executive director Lori Jean Kinsey. “We use sustainable forestry methods. You won’t find clear-cuts here. Think about thinning your carrots. This is a giant garden.”

The parcel contains some old growth stands with hemlock, yellow birch and American beech. Bear, moose, deer, beaver and otter frequent the land. Birders may spot curious owls, small ovenbirds, short-necked bitterns and bright scarlet tanagers.

“There’s very good birding because of the mixed habitat,” Oliver said.

East Bear Paw is also an outdoor classroom for cycling middle school students taking part in the Maine Environmental Science Academy.

“Jotham, in his other job at MESA, along with our naturalist Mike Dufilho, works with students at the Molly Ockett School (in Fryeburg),” said Kinsey. “They often bike here — which is awesome to see — to our living laboratory.”

The parcel also hosts forestry classes, snowshoe mammal tracking programs and research programs.

“We’ve also done some great soil field trips here like comparing soils here to soil from Weston’s Beach,” said Kinsey.

Tin Mountain also has two cycling fundraisers. The August Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb was canceled because of the pandemic, while July’s Mount Washington Century+ went virtual with participants riding the route on their own.

“We wanted to get people to get out and continue riding,” said Kinsey. “We had a fair share of people who had done the route before, and they were going to continue to do it and a fair share of new people.”

For mountain biking, Oliver sees East Bear Paw attracting largely novice and middling riders.

Oliver says there are some mountain bikers using the area, more trail runners and because of COVID-19 some people just want to come and walk.

“I’m seeing more families here, more kids on their bikes here,” he said. “Little groms love it. It’s become more of a family experience.”

Oliver suggests first timers to East Bear Paw ascend the logging road to the trailhead of no. 4 (Middle Earth), an open area. Then ride the rollercoaster no. 5 (Ruby Ridge) to the slightly sinuous no. 3 (Bear Den) with its “roll over a rock wall.”

“Next, no. 2 (Springhouse) offers an opportunity for people to see the remains of kiln-like structure that to this day we have no idea what purpose it served,” he said. “Finally, what some claim is the best to last, I would turn right and make my way to no. 1 (Sweet), because the dessert is worth waiting for. None of these trails are above an intermediate level on a mountain bike and I think anyone would enjoy this loop."

East Bear Paw isn’t a place just for the body but also the mind and soul with lots of opportunity for education, restoration and solace.

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