WEST MILFORD, N.J. (PIX11) — Even though it’s an outdoor activity that’s healthy physically and mentally, mountain biking is rarely something that people with disabilities have the facilities to do. But that changed on Tuesday, with the opening of a new bike trail, for people of all abilities, in Long Pond Ironworks State Park.
The trail is not only a rarity whose designers hope will become less rare, but it’s also in a location with a remarkable back story.
Some of the cyclists who were on the trail riding their adaptive mountain bikes called the new, nearly mile-long, curving course through the woods a boon for accessibility.
“I was in a bicycle race and suffered a spinal cord injury,” said cyclist Aaron Essner, who rode his kneel-position hand-pedal trail bike on both the new course, as well as on some other trails in the state park.
“One of the things I really wanted to do was get back and be in this park,” he continued. “It really opens up my access to a place I used to come to before.”
He was among cyclists with a wide range of disabilities riding on the bike trail on its first day of operation.
Essner emphasized that courses like it are all too rare. “I’ve had to go as far as Vermont, near the Canadian border, to find a trail that is built like this,” he said.
Jeb Anderson, whose firm, King Trail Alliance, designed and built the course, said it had unique requirements.
“I haven’t ridden these bikes,” he said, referring to the adaptive mountain bikes that the course has to accommodate. “The challenge was the unknown.”
Dale Short, an adaptive trail bike rider, said the designer rose to the challenge.
“I can really push the limits,” he said, “[and] shoot through the straightaways and really test what the bike is capable of.”
The course is also outfitted with side trails and obstacles designed for use by traditional mountain bikes. It’s designed to be used by all cyclists, from novices on any bike to the most skilled and experienced off-road cyclists.
Tom Hennigan, president of the Jersey Off-road Bicycle Association, or JORBA, which coordinated funding and logistics for the new trail, said that universal access was the point from the start.
“The idea was,” he said in an interview, “to make a whole circuit that everyone can use.”
The location is further unique in one respect. It’s on the site of a former jungle safari theme park.
Long Pond Ironworks State Park is also listed on some maps as “Jungle Habitat.” That’s because it’s also the name of the cycling and hiking trail system there. It’s also because that was the name of the Warner Bros.-owned theme park that operated on the site from 1972 to 1976.
It had a wide variety of exotic animals running in the wild, while theme park customers drove through the property in their cars to get close access to the creatures.
As a result, all of the trails in the area are named after animals that had lived at the venue long ago.
The new bike trail was christened “Stags.”
Dale Short, one of the adaptive bike riders, said being on “Stags” was meaningful.
“[When] I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy,” he said, “that was a hard day.”
Just as hard, he said, was when he had to sell his traditional bike.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to bike again,” he continued as he described conditions on the new off-road course. “With this trail here, you forget what it smells like when there’s rotting leaves, and what it sounds like, and just things I hadn’t experienced in so long.”