My local city council members recently had a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open our town’s first local mountain bike trail. Clocking in at a robust 4.2 miles, the Brown Mill Trail represents a new phenomenon in how local city governments respond to heightened interest in local outdoor recreation. And though the length may be initially underwhelming, the existence of the trail itself is a minor miracle that other communities should duplicate.
As a Dad of three with a busy job and limited weekends to get away, I sometimes find myself jealous of my past riding buddies. They consistently find time for trips to major mountain biking destinations near Brevard or Wilson’s Creek in Western North Carolina’s national forests. I drool over their rides while I scroll through Strava. I wonder when I might be able to get back to the woods for some epic singletrack. As a former Asheville resident, my time in the woods was weekly and sometimes daily constant since dozens of trailheads were within 30 minutes from my door.
The local exploration
But now that I moved from that locale, I’ve had to make it with minimal options for riding. Community riding is what I used to perceive as a “B class” riding. But I’ve been wrong. Last week I found myself riding on my local roads to the Brown Mill Trail about 4 miles from my home. I flowed through the loop enjoying myself immensely. Then I rode back through the downtown area. The whole ride was just over an hour and had enormous diversity. I explored an old textile mill, a run-down former college, the weekend goings-on in my local town, and of course, got 4 miles of excellent singletrack to boot.
The brilliance of the local mountain biking trail
The genius of my town council creating the local mountain bike trail was that they were making a new way to experience my town in general. They fused the culture of mountain biking to the town’s fabric in a small but significant way. Now I can stop by on the way back from a ride to grab a beer or some groceries. Something that’s challenging if I drive two hours away for a “destination” ride. Suppose more cities have the foresight to develop with small, local riding attractions in mind. In that case, we may see more communities full of bikers, runners, and walkers. Going from point A to B in something other than a car helps the environment as well.
Something is disheartening in feeling like the best mountain biking adventures are in tourist spots like Asheville, Boulder, or Moab. However, the truth is that local governments can cultivate adventure in any town that has a few acres of woods or open space. If more communities did so, we might see a shift in integrating mountain bike culture into every community. And not just those towns that serve as Meccas for the sport.
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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