The project has been on the wish list of the North East Alabama Bicycle Association, a chapter of the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association, for ten years — it even carved out a four-mile trail on the other side of the mountain several years ago that is still inaccessible. But thanks to a grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the project is finally getting a tailwind.
Eventually more than 50 miles of trails will wind through the trees.
A group of more than 20 volunteers were working on the first mile of trail, which is located off of Coldwater Pump Road behind the Anniston Water Works’ Coldwater Pump Station. The first mile will accommodate beginning bikers. The volunteers have been working on the trail for a few months now and it is easy to follow if not completely cleared.
The rough, rocky terrain is still a little scary on this particular weekend morning. But Stephen Mullins, a trail specialist with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) said the goal is to make it rideable by anyone who wants to attempt it.
“We’re trying to get this trail in such a state that if you wanted to ride your bike out here you wouldn’t be afraid to,” Mullins said.
He knows what he’s doing. Mullins has worked with associations all over the country to get their trails in shape for riders and he’s here to help the local chapter create a sustainable home trail.
Each chapter of the southern association has a home trail it maintains, Mullins said, and this trail will eventually be the local chapter’s responsibility. But maintaining the trails is not easy. The process of building this first mile will give the members the skills and knowledge necessary to carry out that responsibility.
“The majority of this project is going to be done by professional contractors,” Mullins said. “The contracting and everything should begin in earnest in March.”
Marcus Tillman, owner of Porterhouse Cafeteria in Oxford, knows the work is a valuable learning experience. He’s been riding for 16 years and has watched in dismay as trails disintegrate because of poor construction or maintenance.
“Even though it’s seems fairly simple — this is dirt and we’re going to move this around here and we’re just going to ride a bicycle on it,” Tillman said. “But there’s been a lot of observation over the years as trails decline, you know. You didn’t go in with a lot of thought and the trail eroded.”
Having the experienced trail builders show them how to create a sustainable, well-planned trail is important. Tillman wants to have the trail available for the long term and he doesn’t mind the work.
“We’re not a lazy group, anybody that goes out there and pedals for miles and miles for hours,” Tillman said. “I love to ride. Mountain biking is kind of my first love. That’s what I first started doing.”
The other people on the crew were also there because of their love of biking and the outdoors. Even a few who are new to the sport showed up to put in time on the trail.
Nathan Phillips of Oxford, who started mountain biking three weeks ago, was moving rocks to bridge a gap in the trail on this cold morning.
“I sunk my teeth into it and I loved it,” Phillips said. “I kind of have an addictive personality. If I get into something I go all into it.”
The group worked with hand tools doing what is called grubbing.
“We’re digging the small saplings out by the roots,” said Preston York, who organized Saturday’s work party.
This first section should be finished in the spring, but it will be rideable by experienced cyclists before that. In fact, one local cyclist in the group has already taken his inaugural ride, York said.
Delaying progress right now is the road leading to the trail. Right now, it’s just dirt and the last part can’t be traversed by all vehicles. However, the tractors and trucks are there and working, he said.
“The state is working diligently on it; but it’s a huge undertaking,” York said. “It’s a half-mile-long road up the side of a steep mountain.”
York estimated it will be at least a month before the road is completed. Still, the excitement of the volunteers was palpable.
Ann Armstrong from Ohatchee has attended a couple of work parties.
“New trails — I want new trails,” Armstrong said. “It’s probably going to be the biggest thing around, better than Oak Mountain in Birmingham. All I can say is get it done.”