Trails for Everybody, Part 1: The Tall Poplar Trail

Photos by Korey Hopkins

Adaptive cyclist on a trail in Patapsco

Patapsco Valley State Park, which extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River and straddles Howard, Baltimore, and Caroll counties in Maryland, is a well-loved destination for outdoor recreational activities. The 16,043-acre park offers hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails. 

MORE leads one of the largest and most dedicated trail work communities in the country. Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park (FPVSP) is a longstanding partner of MORE and works closely with the Maryland Park Service to build and maintain sustainable, natural surface trails for all users. A regular trail work day at the Park can get 200 volunteers on a given weekend.  

FPVSP has also been instrumental in making the outdoors more inclusive to everybody and every body. Over the past few years, FPVSP and its partners have offered adaptive programming for hiking, fishing, paddling, and cycling. These programs are led by Bruce Clopein, FPVSP’s Manager of Adaptive Programs. Bruce grew up by Patapsco Valley State Park and is passionate about making the outdoors accessible to everyone. MORE is working closely with FPVSP to get more adaptive cyclists on trails.  

Demystifying adaptive cycling 

An adaptive athlete talking to a cyclist

Adaptive cycling involves modifying and adapting bikes to suit the needs of an individual rider. Adaptive cycles come in various forms including recumbent leg pedal, recumbent handcycle, tandem, and prone handcycle, sometimes with electric assist. These machines allow people of different abilities to enjoy the sport of cycling. 

When it comes to adaptive mountain biking, a trail must meet certain specifications for it to be considered an adaptive trail. Recommended trail width is at least 3 feet, and the corner radius of turns should allow enough space for an adaptive bike to safely pass. Clear sightlines are also important since many adaptive bikes position the rider lower than on a regular bicycle. Other considerations include grading, obstacle height, and running slopes.

Adaptive does not necessarily mean easy. Just like any trail built for regular mountain bikes, adaptive trails vary in difficulty. Just try Googling “adaptive mountain bike races” to see the gnarly, technical trails adaptive cyclists can ride. 

Adaptive cycling in Patapsco 

Given these considerations, Tall Poplar in the McKeldin area of the Park was the best candidate for an adaptive trail. The Tall Poplar Trail, adopted by the Mountain Club of Maryland, provides beautiful valley vistas and access to the river and a wide trail corridor that could accommodate adaptive bikes. After rigorous review, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources greenlighted the adaptive trail project. 

FPVSP contracted Greenstone Trailcraft to create trail surface and alignment modifications. Access to other park facilities is integral to a positive outdoor experience. A gravel side path, funded by Cycle Mill, was constructed for adaptive riders to get to accessible bathrooms and parking. Specialized sponsored a trail work day, and volunteers put the finishing touches on the 1.5-mile Tall Poplar trail. In November 2021, the first adaptive mountain bike trail in a Maryland State Park was open to the public.

Adaptive cyclist on a trail in Patapsco

FPVSP partners with the Mountain Club of Maryland, Patapsco Heritage Greenway, the Kahlert Foundation, Lancaster Recumbent, Kennedy Krieger Institute, and the Maryland Park Service to provide adaptive cycling programs in Patapsco. During their last adaptive cycling event, folks had the option to ride on paved surface, fire road, and/or the Tall Poplar loop. The different surfaces allow progression for riders trying out adaptive cycling for the first time. “The last thing I want is to discourage riders. People need that great experience in the park.” Bruce also shared that kids and family members of adaptive riders enjoyed riding on Tall Poplar. 

Trails for everybody and every body 

Cyclists and volunteers during an adaptive cycling event in Patapsco.

FPVSP is gearing up for its next adaptive cycling event on April 30, and they have many volunteer opportunities available that day. Volunteers will assist adaptive riders in getting on bikes, ride along to guide cyclists based on their comfort level, and provide encouragement throughout the event. 

“We want to make sure people have access to these experiences. Volunteering makes for a gratifying day. Some of these folks have never done this before. It opens up worlds they didn’t know existed,” said Bruce. 

Learn more about mountain biking in Patapsco Valley State Park and the adaptive trail at Tall Poplar. You can sign up to participate or volunteer for adaptive cycling events here


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where we’ll hear from adaptive athletes and trail liaisons working to get more people into adaptive cycling.