- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

JIM THORPE, Pa. — After a 15-minute climb up a moderate hill, Dave Matsinko set his green mountain bike aside and stepped onto a rocky ledge.

His view: bright green trees covering the hilly gorge, a distant waterfall, the Lehigh River, and the steeples and rooftops of Jim Thorpe far below.

That view is one good reason the mountain-biking trails around this Lehigh Valley town are so popular. They’re also popular for their variety and sheer ubiquity.

Some trails are steep, rocky and technical. Others are classic dirt single-track. Some are marked by railroad ties and exposed roots and travel along paths that coal trains once took.

Other trails are infused with leafy ferns and refreshing creek crossings (refreshing, that is, if you don’t mind wet socks). There are downhill paths and a flat-as-a-river trail that runs alongside the Lehigh. In fall, the leaves turn glorious colors, and the cooler weather makes biking even more pleasant than in summer.

Mr. Matsinko, author of a local mountain-biking guidebook, estimates that there are 100 miles of trails around Jim Thorpe, including a 30-mile Rails-to-Trails path.

The bottom line: If you can pedal a bike, you can find a trail to suit your tastes. If you don’t have a bike, there are several places to rent one, including Blue Mountain Sports, where you can hire 22-year-old Chad Fritzinger to drive you to the trail head. Mr. Fritzinger says Jim Thorpe attracts all kinds of cyclists.

“Anyone from average city folk from Jim Thorpe to people from New York and Philadelphia. People of all races, Jewish groups, Boy Scouts. You name it, we get it,” he says. “That’s the thing with biking — anyone can go out and enjoy it.”

Years ago, when Mr. Matsinko was a summer employee at Blue Mountain Sports, he started putting together a guide to area trails. He has sold 15,000 copies of his self-published guidebook, “An Outdoor Adventure Guide to Jim Thorpe & the Western Poconos.”

On a recent weekday, Mr. Matsinko went out for a ride on two of the area’s trails, both of which offer good workouts and great views. The first trail is called Switchback, a great ride for beginners that mostly goes downhill. Bike outfitters offer shuttles to the top of the mountain, and riders can cruise back to town down a tree-shaded trail.

Brothers Ron and Tom Perkowski were biking Switchback after being dropped off by an outfitter. They said they had decided to try biking after going white-water rafting on the Lehigh the year before.

“We’ve lived here our whole life and never knew it was here,” said Ron Perkowski, of Allentown, Pa., referring to the bike trail.

The brothers were still on a paved section at the top of the hill. They said they wondered how the ride would change when the pavement turned to dirt.

The good news for the Perkowskis was that their path headed downhill at a manageable and moderate clip. It turned a tad rocky, but most of the larger rocks were avoidable. Just a few hundred yards down the trail, Mauch Chunk Lake came into view. An annual Mountain Bike Weekend held at the lake brings hundreds of bikers to Jim Thorpe.

Mr. Matsinko pedaled on and at a fork chose a path that led to an overlook atop Jim Thorpe. The climb on the dirt path was gentle. Exposed roots and an occasional railroad tie added to the challenge. The slope was so gentle that before you knew it — and without exerting a lot of effort — Mr. Matsinko was 300 feet high on a ridge, far from any highway and surrounded only by the peacefulness of oak and maple-tree shade.

The reward for the climb: a towering view of the Lehigh Gorge, a distant shot of Glen Onoko Falls, turkey vultures riding air currents, and the rooftops of Jim Thorpe.

Mr. Matsinko started mountain biking in his youth, when he put the fattest tires he could find on his 10 speeds before real mountain bikes existed.

“It’s something I could do the rest of my life and not be sore afterward, like with running,” said Mr. Matsinko, a middle school teacher who has a 21-year-old daughter and a son in high school.

What does biking offer that he loves so much? “The freedom,” he said. “The smells, the feeling. It’s just the feeling when you get out there. You can’t describe it.”

• • •

Mauch Chunk Lake Park: 625 Lentz Trail, Jim Thorpe, Pa.; www.carboncounty.com/park or 570/325-3669.

Blue Mountain Sports: 34 Susquehanna St., Jim Thorpe, Pa.; www.bikejimthorpe.com or 800/599-4421;

Guidebook: To order a copy of “An Outdoor Adventure Guide to Jim Thorpe & the Western Poconos,” which includes information on trails, B&Bs; and points of interest, send a check for $8.95 to David Matsinko, 45 Second Ave., Lehighton, PA 18235. For more information or to order electronically, visit www.geocities.com/dmatsinko.

For more information: Lehigh Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, www.lehighvalleypa.org or 800/747-0561, or Pocono Mountain Vacation Bureau Office, located in the Jim Thorpe railroad station, 570/325-3673.

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