From the perspective of IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel, the transformation of Calhoun County’s Coldwater Mountain into a big-time mountain biking destination is not about economic development.
Instead, he said, it’s about securing more natural spaces for mountain biking, a sport growing in popularity.
According to the success at similar venues, the message for east Alabama is: Prepare for economic prosperity on two wheels.
Abel and Tom Sauret, executive director of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, visited The Star’s offices with several Calhoun County officials and local proponents of the Coldwater project. They agreed with the view that when completed the mountain’s proposed 60 miles of trails for all levels, along with two “gravity zones” for polishing off-road skills, will make it one of the most attractive venues in the Southeast, if not the entire East Coast.
The plan is to make Coldwater an IMBA ride center, a title the organization designates for only a handful of mountain-biking venues. This is about securing pristine trails for riding, just as Abel and Sauret said. Yet, it’s impossible to neglect the cash that such a destination could bring. A similar project near Albemarie, N.C., is expected to attract 400,000 visitors and offer a $40 million boost to the local economy by the middle of this decade. That sum is more than a third of what Tuscaloosa and Auburn each bring during a season of home football game weekends.
Like we said, that’s a lot of cha-ching from a chain ring and without the colossal traffic jams that big games at UA and AU attract.
Oh, it’s more than that, according to local cycling fans.
Mike Poe, race director for the spring Sunny King Criterium bike events in Anniston, puts it this way: “It will create tourism revenue and will also enhance local quality of life. It will make our community more attractive for industrial recruitment, providing potential employers with an excellent quality of life benefit for employees and families.”
He adds, “Visitors will travel to our community to not only experience the trail system, but will stay multiple days in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, fuel up their automobiles, and shop in local stores.”
According to a survey of Mountain Bike magazine subscribers, the median household income for off-road cyclists is $111,000. Poe points out that the median income of a Golf Digest subscriber is $94,000. And these two-wheel enthusiasts seek new and challenging places to ride, making Coldwater trails like a Disneyworld for mountain bikers.
One striking feature, according to the experts who joined us for lunch, is that Anniston’s Coldwater Mountain trails will be near major highways, stores, restaurants and lodging. A bike rider could spend a day riding the mountain and spend the evening viewing it from a downtown Anniston establishment with a cold refreshment in his or her hand. Many top-notch trails, our mountain biking panelists said, are remote and difficult to reach.
The other unique feature on Coldwater is that it’s largely untouched, making the site a blank canvas for course designers. For this we can thank another lunch guest, Doug Ghee, the former state senator most responsible for enacting the program to protect 4,000 acres on Coldwater Mountain.
Abel and Sauret left with enthusiastic vows of support from Calhoun County Commissioners Eli Henderson and Tim Hodges, Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson, and Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce President Sherri Sumners and Tourism Director Mike Galloway. The project and its estimated $2 million price tag need that kind of support. Local trail boosters say they already have a commitment from the state for $500,000, and are confident they can raise the rest.
The work has already begun. This month volunteers began preparing what will be an initial section that might be ready for riding by the end of the year. After years of delays, it appears this trail is getting smoother.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at (256) 235-3540 or email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.