Building a mountain biking trail and a community

Jan. 20, 2014 @ 11:28 AM

On a cold, clear Saturday morning, Jeff Welch, Sean Moore and a group of dedicated volunteers trudged through the frost and woods, lugging shovels, rakes and picks – finally breaking ground on a project that has been years in the making.

The project is a mountain bike trail, something that Moore and Welch, owners of Luna Cycles in Lenoir, have dreamt about making for quite a while. The idea has been in their heads for more than a decade, but in the past two years, work to begin it solidified. By working with a number of organizations, the money was raised, the schedule set, and on Saturday work begun.

“I didn’t sleep last night – I’m very excited,” Welch said, calling the trail one of the most exciting things to happen in this area.

It will be the first purpose-built mountain-biking trail in the county. It will snake through just over three miles in the woods between the Lenoir Rotary Soccer Complex on Zacks Fork Road and the Lenoir Aquatic and Fitness Center on Jim Barger Drive.

The need for a trail has been present for a long time, and Moore told of customers coming into Luna Cycles, such as some from the Triad who usually ride the Wilkesboro network and visited the shop one day, asking where trails were around Lenoir.

“I had nothing to point them to,” Moore said. If there were a trail in the area, Moore said, Lenoir could be a hub for mountain bikers because the city is surrounded by areas such as Dark Mountain and the Kerr Scott trail network, both about a 45-minute drive from Lenoir.

“It’s like the hole of the doughnut,” Moore said.

The total cost of the trail is estimated at about $35,000, money raised with help from organizations including the Lenoir Tourism Advisory Board, Specialized Bicycle Corp., The Google Fund of the Tides Foundation, Horizon Surgical Associates and the International Mountain Biking Association.

By the end of Saturday, the 21 volunteers completed about an eighth of a mile with the help of a trail-cutting machine that carved a flat path around the hills, with volunteers following behind.

Barring any problems with the weather, the trail could be done by March, Welch said.

The trail could end up helping local businesses, Welch said, because when mountain bikers come to a place to ride, they typically don’t want to visit chain stores or eat at chain restaurants they can find anywhere but look for places unique to the location.

“It’s not a game-changer,” Welch said. “It’s just another piece of the puzzle to draw more interest to mountain biking in the area,” an area that has a lot of potential, given that Caldwell County is 25 percent national forest but still isn’t considered an outdoor destination.

A beginner-level trail, one of its most appealing traits will be its accessibility, Moore said. He and his son could come ride this trail after school or any time, he said, instead of having to make a 45-minute drive to find a suitable trail.

Hopefully, Moore said, the trail will encourage more kids to get outside, something reiterated by Eric Loomis, a volunteer that made the trip from Morganton to help build the trail.

“The more trails the better,” Loomis said, adding that the trail could help pull kids today away from computers and iPads and help them realize that “getting outdoors is pure therapy.”