Ride for the River

by Amy Feiereisel | August 2018, Recreation

Photograph by Everett Sapp

Cycling along—and for—the Ausable

The day of
Ausable River Association’s annual Ride for the River is particularly idyllic. There are clouds in the sky, but no danger of rain. It’s warm, but not too hot. Perfect biking weather. Still, as an amateur biker, I’m a little nervous when I arrive at the Hungry Trout Resort, in Wilmington.

But Carrianne Pershyn, science and operations associate of Ausable River Association (AsRa), is waiting at the registration tent to show me the ropes. She explains that there are three routes mapped out—five-mile, 30-mile and 60-mile options. More than 100 cyclists are already on the road, most having chosen the 30-mile route, which avoids the hardest bits of the 60-mile ride, but includes scenic stretches alongside the Au-sable River.

Pershyn says that participants are a mix of local supporters and serious athletes training for the upcoming Ironman. At this point a few more cyclists have arrived, striking up a conversation when they notice me struggling to lower the seat of my borrowed bike. I assume the fit, Lycra-clad trio—Nancy Sinkoff; her husband, Gary; and their friend Ellen Braitman—must be training athletes, but they’re recreational bikers. Nancy and Gary own a year-round camp in Au Sable Forks, splitting their time between it and their home in New Jersey. They’re huge supporters of AsRA. “I think they do fantastic work in maintaining this environment and protecting the waterways,” Nancy says.

With well wishes from the registration crew and some hastily applied sunscreen, I ride through Wilmington, then turn onto a shaded back road. The routes are clearly marked, and before I know it I’ve reached the first rest stop, at an intersection of road and stream.

While Ride for the River is a fundraiser, it’s also a way to connect with the community, so the rest stops double as education points. The first sits by a sample culvert and AsRA’s executive director, Kelley Tucker, is on hand to answer questions.

As folks refill water bottles and grab free snacks, Tucker explains that a traditional pipe culvert is disruptive to ecosystems and easily damaged during floods. Instead, AsRA advocates for the bottomless culvert, a three-sided structure that integrates the natural channel as its bottom. “It’s great for fish,” she says. “It’s also great for deer and turtles—all sorts of things don’t have to cross the road anymore to get to the other side. But it’s also flood resilient. So, when there’s a storm, the town of Jay never has to go check this culvert.”

Bottomless culverts can last 75 to 100 years; traditional models are only good for 30 to 40 years and require ongoing maintenance. The catch is that the better culverts cost a whole lot more—between $110,000 and $140,000 each. But Tucker says the expense is worth it, because while traditional culverts are cheap short-term, they’re useless during a big weather event.

The floods that followed Tropical Storm Irene, in 2011, helped get local governments on board with the eco-friendly culverts, and AsRA works closely with towns to upgrade their systems. The improved culverts help protect the native species of brook trout, which is increasingly in danger.

“The predictions now are that in 25 years, the Adirondacks will be one of the last few refuges for brook trout,” says Tucker. “So why on earth would we not want to do something that’s good for our towns and that helps the species?”

The culverts are just one way AsRa pursues its mission, which Tucker defines as “preserving and protecting the Ausable River and its waters, for both wildlife and the people that live, work and play here.” That means the staff of four—along with an active board and a network of volunteers—advocates for more than 500 square miles, including numerous lakes, 94 miles of the Ausable River and more than 70 streams.

Projects range from installing porta-potties along the Ausable, to rebuilding stream ecosystems and monitoring water quality, to educating anglers and paddlers about aquatic invasive species. Interacting with the public at events like Ride for the River is vital. “We want [residents] to make informed decisions, we want to help them steward the river in their backyard. And we want them to enjoy the river, to recreate on the river in ways that are low-impact,” says Tucker.

Low-impact recreation is what inspired Ride for the River back in 2012, when AsRA board member Bradley Knapp suggested these scenic cycles along the Ausable. On my route today, I plateau out onto a lovely stretch that traces the river, flush with rains and almost blinding as it reflects the day’s sunlight.

Too soon the road veers left onto a massive, seemingly vertical climb on Springfield Road. Halfway up I’m panting for breath. Thankfully, no one is around to witness my turtle-like progress or loud victory whoop when I crest the hill and find I’m riding through a beautiful field. It’s a steep and dreamy sail down to the second resting tent, where AsRA’s science and stewardship director, Brendan Wiltse, discusses the dangers of road salt in waterways.

Wiltse explains that AsRA has been working with residents and local officials to strike a balance between safe roads and healthy streams, and they regularly monitor the Ausable River and its tributaries to better understand the movement of salt. High sodium concentrations are toxic to aquatic organisms and can affect human health through groundwater contamination.

The sun is high when we finish talking, and Wiltse cheerfully tells me that I have another 10 miles to look forward to—on a steady uphill. I mount up and grit my teeth for the homestretch.

Finally, I spot the sign for The Hungry Trout and realize the ride is over. I’m at my destination, and it’s a lovely scene: a big tent filled with food and a lawn littered with games. Clouds dot the sky, offering a little respite from the July sun. Fittingly, the resort overlooks the Ausable River. From here, watching its graceful bends and swiftly flowing water, it’s not hard to understand why AsRA is so passionate about keeping it healthy.

A blues band warms up as I approach Kelley Tucker at the raffle table. She confirms my suspicion that I’m the last, lone biker. I make a beeline for the buffet tables, thinking that the kindness of strangers and a gorgeously organized event can turn even the most reluctant biker into an enthusiastic participant—and more informed citizen—by day’s end. Maybe I’ll try the 60-miler next time.

AsRA’s Ride for the River happens July 15; register in advance for a discount. Call (518) 637-6859 or visit www.ausableriver.org for details.

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