Construction of an uphill bike lane on East Darling Hill Road that was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic is slated to start this spring. The $956,000 project, funded largely by a Northern Border Regional Commission grant, is a partnership between the town of Burke and Kingdom Trails.

The East Darling Hill Road project was chosen for grant funding in 2018 after two previous applications to fund the project were not selected. Burke Town Manager Mike Harris said engineering for the project was completed last summer.

The first work to be undertaken this spring will be the replacement of a culvert at the top of East Darling Hill Road. The roadway which connects East Burke Village and Darling Hill Road had been identified as a safety hazard because of its heavy use in the summer by both motorists and bicyclists.

Local construction contractor Winterset Inc. of Lyndon was awarded the contract to do the culvert work. It is slated to begin after a pre-construction meeting in early April.

Construction of the .7 mile uphill bike lane project will be carried out by Dale E. Percy Inc. of Stowe, said Harris, and will start after the culvert work is completed. The five-foot-wide uphill bike lane will include resurfacing of the road and improvement of the road’s storm-water run-off capacity.

The East Darling Hill Road project exemplifies a symbiosis that has been built over the years between the town of Burke and the Kingdom Trails organization. The project has been described as beneficial to both the trail network and to municipal infrastructure. A statement that is part of the grant award said the purpose of the funding is “to improve safety, and to facilitate continued recreation-based job growth in the town and the region at large.”

Kingdom Trails provided matching funding for the project through the purchase of two parcels of land along the road that will provide the opportunity for future construction of an in-woods climbing trail to entice riders off the paved roadway.

Harris said throughout the construction this summer, East Darling Hill Road will remain open to motorists, with the expectation that at least one lane for motorists will be open at all times. He said, however, that it will be necessary at times to close the road to bicyclists.

Kingdom Trails Executive Director Abigail Long said it is expected that the number of mountain bikers using the trail system this summer will increase, but that the trail system will not see pre-pandemic trail ridership numbers again until 2022. An upside to the possibility of lower trail users this summer will be fewer complications for the East Darling Hill project.

In 2019, Kingdom Trails recorded approximately 150,000 visitors, and on peak weekends there would be 800 to 1,200 mountain bikers using the trails each day.

Despite a rebuilding year for trail visitation in 2021 due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Long is enthusiastic about Kingdom Trails events planned for the summer months. She said there will be several volunteer days for people to get involved in trail-work, that the Kingdom Trails Kids Ride event that is done in conjunction with Northwoods Stewardship Center is on the schedule, as is the annual Race Back to School event.