Cape Cod isn’t what first springs to mind for most riders when thinking about mountain biking in New England. But that reputation is changing, thanks, in part, to the efforts of the Cape Cod NEMBA chapter. We recently had a chance to speak with the chapter’s president, Frank Merola, to learn more about one of the organization’s most recent projects on the Cape: the trails at Maple Swamp Conservation Lands in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The project is everything good about biking—volunteers working hand-in-hand with a community to steward a local conservation area and build a multi-use trail system that has transformed the property. It just so happens that the riding at Maple Swamp is pretty good, too.

Credit: Tim Peck

Revitalizing Maple Swamp

Mountain biking at Maple Swamp isn’t a new thing. In fact, Merola has been riding Maple Swamp for more than two decades. But for much of that time, the area was known among mountain bikers as the “Sandwich Spirit Breakers,” thanks to its long sustained hills, trails torn up from years of illegal moto use, and too many folks using the area as a dumping ground for all kinds of waste.

That reputation began to change over the last five or so years, with NEMBA partnering with the Sandwich Conservation Commission to change the area’s reputation. One of the group’s first projects in the area was working with the town to help clean up old lumber, paint, and building materials that had been dumped in the area over the years.

Since that first project, the relationship between the organization and the commission has blossomed, with NEMBA volunteers working to keep the area clean, reinvigorate old trails, build new mountain bike trails, and develop infrastructure around the parkland. NEMBA holds regular trail maintenance days and also hosts an introduction to mountain biking program for children in grades three through eight on the trails, providing riding opportunities for the local community.

Thanks to all this work, the area is now home to around 25 miles of trails—about half of which were existing trails the organization restored while the other half are newly built. The biking complements other well-known Cape Cod riding locations like West Barnstable Conservation Area in West Barnstable and Otis in Falmouth.

But, as Merola stressed to us, NEMBA has made an effort to not turn the area into an exclusive bike park. Everybody is welcome at Maple Swamp and it’s commonplace to see hikers and dog walkers on the trails—including the bike trails, which Merola told us many hikers and walkers seem to prefer because they are newer and a little more interesting.

Credit: Tim Peck

The Maple Swamp Trails

While some of the Cape’s top riders are Maple Swamp regulars, the area’s trails provide varied terrain, with trails to accommodate riders of all skill levels. Describing the riding, Merola told us it’s so popular because “it gives riders an almost Kingdom Trails-like experience, where they can get 20 to 25 miles and between two and three thousand feet of climbing. You get ups, you get downs, you get flow, you get everything.”

One must-ride trail is Snake Milk, a trail Frank had been thinking about building for more than 20 years and which recently became a reality. Reminiscent of Kingdom Trails’ iconic trail Sidewinder, Snake Milk has riders flowing down a ravine while making grin-inducing S-turns up and down its sides.

Another fairly unique feature of the Maple Swamp Trails is two relatively long trails: Subdivisions and Jawbones. Both provide two-plus miles of uninterrupted, rolling mountain bike bliss. They also offer a stark contrast to other longer Cape Cod trails which commonly intersect with other trails, making it easy to get mixed up navigating.

Another couple of must-hit trails leave right from the parking lot—Sasquatch and The End is Nye. The route begins moderately on Sasquatch (giving your legs just enough time to warm up) before the pitch steepens and climbs steadily through a series of switchbacks on The End is Nye, ending at Sam Nye’s Observation Deck, which was built by NEMBA and, on a clear day, affords a view of Provincetown and the Atlantic.

One other distinguishing characteristic of the Maple Swamp Trails is the signage, which is typically absent at other Cape Cod riding destinations. At Maple Swamp, the trails are well-signed and fairly easy to navigate thanks to regular markers indicating a trail’s name, intended use (biking isn’t allowed on all of the trails at Maple Swamp), difficulty, and in some cases direction.

Credit: Tim Peck

When to Ride

One of the great things about mountain biking on the Cape is that it’s often a year-round activity—it doesn’t get much snow and its sandy soil means the ground dries quickly. Merola says with the exception of a couple of really cold days, “this winter was perfect for mountain biking on Cape Cod and they’ve been non-stop riding all season long.” That was particularly true at Maple Swamp, where Merola rides regularly all year.

Word is getting out about how good the riding is at Maple Swamp. In recent months, Merola has seen more visitors coming from the “other side of the bridge” and riders from more northern regions, all logging some miles while their local trails were covered in snow or muddy. “Just last week,” he told us, “there was a group of people that came from Quebec.”

Merola says the trails also see a big bump in activity in the summer, with “people who vacation on the Cape bringing their bikes because there are some legit trails here.”

Credit: Tim Peck

The Takeaway

One thing you learn when talking to Merola is that the Maple Swamp Trails are the result of the efforts of a lot of people—he’s quick to credit team members who’ve helped map and propose new trails, the numerous volunteers that show up for trail workdays, and NEMBA’s partnership with the Sandwich Conservation Commission. When thinking about new trails, Merola also includes the Conservation Commission in the early stages, helping to ensure buy-in from the beginning. Merola says, “The town of Sandwich is easy to work with and they get it. They enjoy and respect mountain biking and think it’s a big part of their community.”

Cape Cod NEMBA gets it, too. They don’t want to keep their awesome biking a secret—they want to see riders on the trails and wheels on the ground. So if you’re heading to the Cape, remember to bring your bike.