New Brunswick

From 'mud dumps' to top-notch trails: How the Minto coal mines were transformed

A local physician transformed remaining coal mine trenches into kilometres of mountain bike trails.

Minto trenches turned into trails, giving riders the "best mountain bike experience in the Maritimes"

Avid mountain biker Dr. Sean Morrissy, left, and Joel LeBlanc ride the Minto mountain bike trails. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Physician and mountain bike enthusiast Dr. Sean Morrissy was looking to build a small circuit of mountain bike trails he could ride after long days at work when he stumbled upon a giant hole in the ground. Now, six years later, he calls the find "a gold mine."

Morrissy discovered one of the many trenches left behind from the abandoned Minto coal mines, and the discovery soon become part of a trail system that would not only please mountain bikers but the entire village.

Before he knew it, Morrissy was helping boost tourism, the local economy and community pride.

Dr. Sean Morrissy on the Minto mountain bike trails. He created a network of trails out of the remains of an abandoned coal mine. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"It was a great moment when I saw this because I knew I stumbled upon something really special," said Morrissy.

The Minto community considered the remains of the coal mines a "barren wasteland" or, as some still call them, the "mud dumps." But Reggie Barton, councillor for the Village of Minto, said Morrissy's work has turned a negative into a positive.

"When I went out to help Sean to start building the trails, I didn't realize that they've grown with the trees and the ponds and how aesthetically beautiful it is out there now," Barton said.

The trails are considered to be "the best mountain bike experience in the Maritimes," according to Mountain Bike Minto, a non-profit organization that promotes mountain biking in the community.

The infertile soil holds no tree roots, and the shattered rocks have turned the trenches into giant sandboxes. Avid mountain bike riders, like Joel LeBlanc, describe the terrain as clay-like.

Joel LeBlanc, left, and Dr. Sean Morrissy became friends through their interest for mountain biking. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

"The trails are punchy, they're fast and a lot of fun and a little less hard on the body really," he said.

What began as four kilometers of trails has turned into 30, and Morrissy said there's still room for triple that.

How a local physician transformed remaining coal mine trenches into kilometres of mountain bike trails. 1:00

"It's almost growing without me now," he said.

Minto residents have taken matters in their own hands by continuing to donate their time to keep the trails fit to be used — even without Morrissy's asking. 

A mountain bike destination

The mountain bike trails have brought a sense of community pride in the village. It's turned a small town into a mountain bike destination. Both Morrissy and LeBlanc drive from their homes in Fredericton to ride the trails.

"When the community got on board, that's when things kicked into high gears," said Morrissy.

The Village of Minto went as far as adding a "Welcome Mountain Bikers" road sign upon entering the community.

The Village of Minto installed the sign welcoming mountain bikers back in 2015. (Alyssa Gould/CBC)

The long stretch of trail requires major upkeep to ensure the security of all trail users. Morrissy estimated the yearly upkeep can take up to 40 to 60 hours of labour. Luckily, a wide-range of Minto residents have stepped in to help. Whether it's leaf blowing, picking up pine needles or chainsaw work, someone takes care of it.

The trails have also helped the local economy, Barton said.

"They come in from all over. They stop in the stores, they buy groceries, gas, they eat at restaurants. I think it's great that it draws people in the village," he said.

Mountain bikers aren't the only ones taking advantage of the trails. So are those looking for a new place to walk, run or snowshoe in winter. Minto native and personal trainer Mandy Hunter is one of them.

"These trails have become much more than biking trails. It has brought another option for fitness that was missing before," said Hunter, who owns MIAN Fitness.

"The Village of Minto has no fitness facility at the moment, making it difficult to accommodate everyone in the community. While there are already walking trails in Minto, there's something about these ones that give the element of being deeper in the woods."

The mountain bike trails are a focal point in Minto now. They've converted many into mountain bikers, too, including Hunter. After volunteering at the annual Coal Miner's Lung Mountain Bike Race, it sparked something in her "that definitely piqued my interest to get a mountain bike and start."

This year's Coal Miner's Lung race will be taking place June 17, shine only.