The fresh blacktop just off Coldwater Pump Road leads up a winding path to a gravel parking lot at the top of Coldwater Mountain—the trailhead for a new 11-mile system.
“The Coldwater Mountain bike trail I rode today is probably the best trail I’ve ever ridden, and I’ve ridden a lot of trails,” said 28-year-old Brian DeGaetano of Gadsden after an hour-long ride Saturday morning.
“The design overall is top-notch,” he said. “[Someone of] pretty much any skill level could ride it.”
One of the biggest accomplishments of Coldwater’s design, he said, is that “the obstacles that are there are there on purpose as a feature to have fun with versus to slow you down.” More advanced riders could sail over a series of hills, for example, and riders who are learning or just decide to go a little slower can ‘roll’ the hills, which DeGaetano said “is fun to do anyway.”
That was a big plus for Bill Wakefield, an avid road cyclist who said he hasn’t biked a mountain trail since a bad experience about a decade ago.
“It’s easy to say it and it’s hard to do it when you put together a trail that technical bicycle riders are going to love and guys like me are going to love,” he said.
Wakefield said other mountain trails such as Oak Mountain near Birmingham “were either so technical that they scared me, or they were big, wide like a fire lane.”
Coldwater, he said, provides a nice middle ground for just about any rider.
The trail won’t open to the public until early Friday afternoon, immediately after a grand opening ceremony at noon. The next day, Saturday, members of Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association — the local affiliate of the International Mountain Bicycling Association — will be leading group rides on the trail beginning at 8 a.m. The local bike club is even providing enough Mellow Mushroom pizza to feed the first 100 or so riders around lunchtime.
Until Friday’s grand opening, the gate at the entrance of the road that leads up to the trailhead will remain locked, but from then on, police will open the gate every morning at sunrise and close it at after a check of the parking lot at sunset, according to Preston York, vice president of mountain biking for NEABA.
The actual construction of the trail wrapped up about a month ago and members of NEABA have been leading rides for about three weeks in order to identify any flaws or problem areas in the design of the trail and really pack down the dirt, York said.
The project initially began as a volunteer effort, but after winning a federal Recreational Trail Grant administered through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association—the local grantee—brought in a professional crew to excavate and build the flow trail. The IMBA-affiliated Trail Solutions crew has spent more than a year on the construction of the trail.
“They are world-class, and they build trails all over the world,” York said.
Since construction of the trail finished, work to fine-tune it has continued, with a great deal of hand finishing just getting wrapped up on Wednesday. “We try to make the area look as natural as possible so you don’t see fresh dirt, you don’t see cut limbs and debris from trail-building,” York said. “It looks like it’s been here for years.”
And in fact, the materials from which the trail was constructed have been. The features of the trail—berms, hills, jumps, some rock interference here and there—were all constructed using materials excavated from Coldwater Mountain, a land trust site held in the stead of Forever Wild, another partner in the project.
Several large rocks (not quite boulders) create a transition from the parking lot to the entrance of the trail, lining its edges until it heads off into the oak trees. The red clay trail is sun-baked and solid, ready for riders.
What Trail Solutions has created at Coldwater Mountain stands out in the minds of local off-road enthusiasts.
“It’s unique to anything I’ve seen in the Southeast,” said 34-year-old Kyle Mann, who explained Saturday that most of what he’s seen locally and in Florida and Georgia are rockier, more narrow trails. But Coldwater, he said, “reminds me of a snowboard park a little bit—the table top jumps and berms.”
The trail, which has about a 1.5-mile “green loop” designed for any riders—beginning adults, kids, or advanced riders out for a more leisurely ride—and a longer “blue loop” that branches off for more than 8 miles and provides intermediate-level features, including about 150 jumps and about 12 berms that provide turns of up to 180 degrees on the trail.
The berms provide some of the most eye-popping moments of the ride, which could prove to be a big draw for enthusiasts.
“There’s one berm that’s just got this beautiful view...down the mountain. It’s just gorgeous,” said DeGaetano. “I think that’s one thing that’s going to bring people from out of state.”
“The best part about it is it’s in Anniston, Alabama.” Wakefield added. “I think it’ll be a tremendous boost to our economy.”
He said that while people may not be making 12-day trips to Anniston, he does foresee the trail system being a big draw. When people come through town, they’ll buy gas or grab something to eat.
“Anything we can do in the city of Anniston that’s outside the box,” he said. “This weekend, I think it’s going to be mobbed out there.”