The members of the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s Trail Solutions division get together once per year, and this year they’re doing it in Anniston.
That’s because IMBA members are helping to design what they and local cyclists hope will become a network of 50 to 60 miles of trails atop Coldwater Mountain. IMBA officials have said the project could become a major national center for mountain biking. Locals also hope it will draw tourists and bolster the local economy.
Rich Edwards is a trail specialist for IMBA’s Trail Solutions division. He was in Anniston Friday along with two other trail specialists who were combing the mountain for the best routes for future trails. Edwards said as many as 12 people involved with trail design and construction would be in town during the week, including nine Trail Solutions staffers and three from IMBA’s Southeastern affiliate, the Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association.
He said the trail builders and designers normally are spread across the country, but all of them will likely wind up working on portions of the Coldwater Mountain project’s design. They'll benefit from seeing the mountain up-close together.
“This is a great way to have them have a personal familiarity with it,” Edwards said.
SORBA and the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association last fall received $160,000 in federal grants through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs for the project, with the money being used to hire Trail Solutions to get the project rolling.
Edwards and others met last week with officials from the state to discuss trailhead locations and potential private donors. This week they’ll meet with the Alabama State Lands Division to help determine what effect constructing the trails will have on wildlife on the mountain. The trails are being built on a 4,000-acre tract of land protected as part of the state’s Forever Wild land trust program. The program calls for the land to be open to the public for some kind of recreational use.
Edwards was impressed with the stands of mountain longleaf pine that dot the peak, southwest of downtown Anniston. The longleaf species once covered much of the Southeast, but has been largely cleared away. The upland variety has clung to the higher terrain of Coldwater and the nearby Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge east of the city, where the steep terrain was less accessible to loggers.
“To have those existing remnants of the longleaf pine, that’s downright cool from a naturalist’s perspective,” Edwards said.
While the professionals from IMBA will handle much of the design and technical work and construction management, it is hoped local volunteers will do a significant portion of the actual trail building, a process that could take several years to complete.
The larger the network of quality trails, the more likely the Coldwater project is to draw cyclists looking for new challenges, Edwards said. And that will depend on how much work the local community put into the project.
“Overall mileage is going to depend significantly on how the local community and partners rally behind it,” Edwards said.
That shouldn’t be a problem, according to Patrick Wigley, owner of the Wig’s Wheels bicycle shop on Noble Street. Wigley said at a recent work day in January, about 30 local volunteers showed up to help build the first few miles of trail. Wigley said that turnout is much larger than what he’d seen for trail projects in other communities he’s lived in, including Columbia, Tenn., and Fort Worth, Texas.
Wigley, in between fielding questions from customers in his shop, agreed that it would be a challenge for local organizers to sustain that level of involvement. He said, though, that he thinks volunteers will continue to help out.
“I think everybody understands how this trail system’s going to affect the county in a positive way,” Wigley said. “Everybody’s just so hungry for something positive to happen. And to be part of that is a great opportunity.”
Wigley said the popularity of cycling in the area provides a well-stocked pool of volunteers.
While he said it’s nice to see the impact volunteers and the Trail Solutions professionals are having on Coldwater Mountain, Wigley said the mountain’s effect on the trail designers, experienced professionals who’ve worked all over the country, is just as exciting.
“Their eyes are as big as quarters and they realize that mountain is just dripping with potential,” he said.
Star Metro Editor Ben Cunningham: 256-235-3542.
Interested in volunteering to build trails on Coldwater Mountain? Visit http://www.neabc.org