It was gold that first put the north Georgia town of Dahlonega on the map. Today, cycling helps keep it there.
The town of about 6,000 people was the site of the first gold rush in the U.S. and is now home to some of the most scenic and sought-after mountain and road biking in the Southeast.
And it’s all just a three-hour drive from Anniston.
In addition to the 50 miles of mountain bike trails with about 3,000 feet of climbing on Bull and Jake mountains — which the International Mountain Bicycle Association named as “epic” rides — the area is home to the two-day Six Gap century and the Three Gap Fifty road cycling events.
“The impact is sufficient enough that we’d like to expand Six Gap to a three-day event,” Dahlonega City Manager Bill Schmid said on Friday. Organizers in September held the 29th annual Six Gap century ride there.
Hotels in Dahlonega are booked months in advance of the events, Schmid said, and because century ride is so well known riders come year-round to practice in the steep north Georgia mountains.
Perhaps no other small town in the Southeast has taken better advantage of cycling opportunities than the North Carolina town of Brevard in Transylvania County, about a five-hour drive from Anniston.
With a population of around 7,600, Brevard and the surrounding area is home to world-renowned mountain biking, with more than 300 miles of trails in the Pisgah National Forest and DuPont State Recreational Forest.
The Brevard College Cycling team has won four national mountain biking championships.
But it took time to get the word out about what the area had to offer cyclists, according to Brad Campbell, creative director of Market Connections, which represents the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority.
“We also didn’t have a lot of money to market to these cycling audiences,” Campbell wrote to the Star in Friday. “So we set out to share our story by inviting journalists and writers to visit.”
Campbell wrote that the effort paid off, and that “we ended up with a national cover feature about cycling in Transylvania County that effectively put us on the map, with riding publications, riders and bike manufacturers.”
The last several years has seen a dramatic increase in cyclists coming to the area to ride and explore the “Moab of the East,” Campbell wrote, adding that both bicycle companies Specialized and Trek held worldwide bike launches there. Celebrated professional riders have moved there as well, he wrote, including Matthew Busche, who completed the Tour de France three years ago for Team Trek and won the USA Cycling Pro Championships in 2016.
“George Hincapie, 14-time Tour de France cyclist, lives down the mountain in Traveler’s Rest, S.C., and is often seen on the local roads,” Campbell wrote.
With all of that publicity Transylvania County has seen the development and growth of several cycling-related businesses, Campbell wrote.
Anniston officials hope to continue to grow that same kind of outdoor recreation draw in Calhoun County, which is home to numerous cycling events, including the Noble Street Festival, Sunny King Criterium, McClellan Road Race, Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo and the Fat Tire Fest.
Anniston Mayor Jack Draper said Thursday that when cyclists come from all over to ride Coldwater Mountain, the Chief Ladiga Trail and for the area’s cycling events “they see what a great, charming place this is, and it truly is.”
“We’re becoming a cyclist’s dream destination,” Draper said, adding that Coldwater Mountain and the area’s other cycling opportunities are an asset that the city plans to maximize.
“It’s a huge part of the economic and development tourism piece going forward,” Draper said.
Staff Writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @burkhalter_star.