-Kingdom Trails mountain biking features more than 100 miles of singletrack on private land.
John Worth started selling mountain bikes at East Burke Sports to earn extra cash in the summer. There was just one problem—there was nowhere to ride.
Worth, who opened East Burke Sports in 1988 as a ski shop, took matters into his own hands by cutting a few mountain bike trails near Darling Hill. Some of those first trails—including Herb’s Trail, Pines, and Kitchel—are now part of the legendary Kingdom Trails mountain biking network.
The trail network, which is celebrating its 25th year, features more than 100 miles of singletrack built on private land.
Worth got his first taste of mountain biking while leading tours for Vermont Country Cyclers in Ireland. The Ithaca native, who attended Lyndon State College, biked on logging roads and snowmobile trails in East Burke before deciding to carve out a few trails on his own.
“The first trails we cut were just for fun and for ourselves,” he says. “It was pretty covert because we were cutting trails on people’s land that we didn’t know.”
But word began to spread about the trails, and Worth realized he was onto something. Eventually, Doug Kitchel—a former owner of Burke Mountain ski area, where Worth worked in the winter—got involved and helped secure permission from landowners to create an official network of trails.
Kingdom Trails Mountain Biking: A Trail Network on Private Land
Kingdom Trails is one of the earliest examples of purpose-built singletrack trails. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, mountain biking was a new sport, and the concept of building trails specifically for riding bikes was nearly unheard of.
Today, the trails exist on private land owned by more than 90 different landowners. The trail network has grown by 75 percent—or about 65 miles—since Kingdom Trails started in 1994. It includes trails at Burke Mountain, Darling Hill in East Burke, and a new section in East Haven.
The new section—Moose Haven Trails in East Haven—expands the network to span four towns and two counties. Kingdom Trails, a charitable non-profit conservation organization, is also building a connector to the Moose Haven section to create a long backcountry loop.
“The system is designed to be experiential and accessible to all as there are trails for every level of ability,” says Lilias Ide, event and marketing manager for the Kingdom Trail Association. “The trails pass through a beautiful landscape with open views. This is much needed because on the East Coast we don’t have access to large expanses of public land as we do out west.”
The trail network, which sees about 140,000 visits a year, is open year-round for non-motorized recreation. Currently, all mapped trails in the local area are on private land, and the funds needed to maintain the trail system are generated through the sale of annual and one day memberships.
Over the years, Kingdom Trails has grown in popularity and earned acclaim far and wide. East Burke was named one of America’s top 20 bike towns by National Geographic, and Kingdom Trails was called “Best mountain biking trail network in North America” by Bike Magazine. The trails have also been featured in The New York Times, Yankee Magazine, Outside Magazine, The Boston Globe, and beyond.
The mission of Kingdom Trails was not just to create a remarkable network of trails but do so in a way that conserved the natural resources in the area, respectful of the landowners and educational to all.
“Kingdom Trails hopes to continue striving toward our mission,” says Kingdom Trails Association Executive Director Abby Long. “We will always have the community at the forefront of our decisions, making certain that we are serving local residents, our landowners, trail users, and the environment to the best of our ability.”
It’s incredible to think about the transformation of East Burke over the past 25 years. In 1994, East Burke was a sleepy little village that was exceptionally quiet in the summer. Today, it’s a bustling destination that lives up to its reputation as one of the best places to ride in the country.
“Back when I started cutting trails, I knew had to do something to create a niche and create a successful business. Mountain biking was starting to boom, and people needed a place to ride,” says Worth, whose store earns 80 percent of its annual revenue between April and October. “Now when I look around, I love it when I see all the mountain bikers here.”