Bob checks the grade with his clinometer.

Designing a trail at Rocky Knob is one part science, one part dodging Volkswagon-sized rocks, and one part hunch. The other half is thrashing through rhododendron. Woody Keen, CEO of Trail Dynamics, calls it art and science. Crawling on your belly through rhodo, you might be tempted to call something else.

The science represents the easy part. Green trails should be no more than 5% grade with short runs up to 15%. Allow water to exit the trail without running down it. Follow the twists and turns of the land. Keep the tread smooth. Translating that to the ground tests one’s fortitude. Following the specifications may take the trail into a dead end. Big rocks seem to loom through every rhodo patch like guardians of the hillside. We’ve already discovered we’ll need to invent new ways to blaze a Green trail through a boulderfield, but scattered all over Rocky Knob are gigantic boulders that keep interfering with the flag line. For blue trails, we might incorporate these into the design, but the Green trail must go either above or below. Each time we decide a micro route above or below, a multitude of more decisions unfold for the next 100 feet of trail. And so on.

Chuck calls on the satellites to confirm our location.

We’re attempting to connect two ends of the flag line where we’ve added about another mile to the existing trail. We’ve spent hours aligning these legs, questioning our judgment, shooting grade with a clinometer, re-aligning, thrashing through rhodo, and placing new flags. Once we connected the ends in a satisfying way, we came to realize we could spend days attempting to perfect the line only to make it a tad better. It feels good now. We gone on. Besides, Bob will make judgment calls every foot as the machines crawl along giving the trail it’s final “flow.”

The Rocky Branch Trail has taken on another mile to bring it’s mileage to 2.6. We’ve added a spiral-like upper extension to the original trail which will provide, in effect, a second green trail options. Riders can complete the Rocky Branch Loop (1.6 miles) or can add the Lower Knob Trail for another mile. Also, the upper trail connects to the saddle between the knobs where a “flow-jump” trail will depart down the power line corridor. However riders choose to navigate this first phase, they will be treated to a beautiful and exciting trail to rival any “easy” trail east of the Practice Loop in Moab.

Flag line for Rocky Branch Trail and Lower Knob Trail (the connection is not shown for the complete Rocky Branch Trail. It will be where the inside loops are at their closest, roughly in the midle of the picture.)

Dirt Beneath the Rock

Bob Karriker finds the rock in Rocky Knob

There is dirt beneath the rock. Attempting to place pin flags in the soil at Rocky Knob while establishing the trail led us to believe Rocky Knob to be all rock. Everywhere, beneath the leaves: rock. Elsewhere, under the tangle of wild grape vines: rock. Once Bob walked the mini-excavator  into the corridor and began pulling rocks from the tread he hit it: dirt. Good dirt. Bob, an expert in Piedmont trails (he’s one of the lead volunteers at Lake Norman State Park), says, “man, when we hit a rock in the Piedmont, we covet it. We save that thing to use for something special. We just need to find dirt here.”

Bob, at the controls of the mini-ex.

The abundance of rock here will make for slow work but when the trail gets to the first boulderfield we will have plenty of material for crib walls and other structures.

As the tread moves forward, the Boone community will be able to get involved in the development at Rocky Knob:

Thursday, July 29th, 6:00 PM at the Broyhill Inn (ASU): Kick-off presentation by Trail Dynamics and Watauga TDA

Saturday, July 31st, 9:00 AM at the Best Western in Boone: Sustainable Trail Building Workshop led by Woody Keen of Trail Dynamics. 2:00 PM: public work day at Rocky Knob.

Moto Mike: Rocky Knob Intern

Moto Mike contemplates the Rock at Rocky Knob

Michael Thomas a.k.a “Moto Mike” has joined the Rocky Knob team as the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and trail building intern. An ASU student in Geography and Planning and seriously competitive mountain biker, Moto Mike also has many trails to his credit including the Pro Downhill course at Hawksnest. Michael will assist in locating and mapping interesting natural features on the property, construct trails, and ultimately create maps.

Moto Mike assesses the possibilities of his new internship site.

Send in the Saws

Safety Briefing. Lynn Willis Photo.

Corridor clearing for the Rocky Branch Trail began on Thursday, July 22. Boone Area Cyclist’s USFS certified sawyers led the effort with 16 volunteers.

Mike Hallinan taking care of a rather large widow maker near the trail head.

The group worked for two and a half hours and cleared the first leg of the trail to the power lines.

This effort exemplifies the”Hybrid-Build” negotiated by the WCTDA and Trail Dynamics. Machine work by Trail Dynamics will begin on Monday, July 26. Volunteers will be needed for hand finishing the trail. If you are interested in volunteering email me at

Taking in the sunset.

What the Land Says

For the better part of two weeks, I have been walking every knee-deep marsh, chest-deep stinging nettle thicket, and shin-busting boulderfield on Rocky Knob. I’ve been working for Trail Dynamics on the layout of the first loop trail at the new park. Last week Chuck Ramsey, whom I first worked with 10 years ago on mountain bike trails in Dupont State Forest, clocked to finalize the plan. Our charge is to layout a two-to-three mile beginner (Green by the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s trail rating system) trail.

Chuck Ramsey stops to check out some of Rocky Knob's Flora.

Building a green trail (let’s call it Rocky Branch Trail for now) will be no easy task at Rocky Knob. The entire north face of the lower knob is a boulderfield. Chuck and I spent a day plotting a route through the rubble. Some of the stones can be moved by hand, others, as Chuck says, are connected to the center of the earth. “Bob’s gonna cuss when he sees this,” Chuck continues. He is referring to Bob Karriker who will be the lead machine operator on the trail. How will we get through here?  We’ll see what the land says and do accordingly. Once through the chockstone side hill problem, the planned route leads onto the uphill edge of the marshy, bouldery drainage of Rocky Branch. The trail will then follow the creek in and out of coves to the southern boundary of the park, switch back on itself and then follow a high line above the lower leg back to the trail head passing through a diversity of micro terrain and biotic communities.

Following the land, not working against it will ultimately create better, more sustainable trails. A trail that does not follow the land invites problems. Water retention. Erosion. Unnecessary braking. All these issues will force volunteers to spend more time with maintenance. Build it right the first time equals more time in the saddle.

Bob Karriker (right) and Chuck Ramsey check out a choke point on the new flag line.

The Rocky Branch Trail will feature a couple of Trail Dynamics’ trademarks:

First, this trail will dance. Straight lines seldom exist in nature and so the trail will follow the curves, dips, and rises of the land. If the land says up, riders will be going up. Down, down. Left, then left, then back right.

Second: Technical Terrain Features.  Numerous optional lines constructed to create more advanced options (i.e. Technical Terrain Features (TTFs) are planned for this and future trails). Rock-gardens, log rides, and small drops will pepper this green trail but will be easily avoided by riders not wishing to test their skill level.

The Rocky Branch Trail will be the first of several stacked-loops and will provide riders an appetizer to what awaits higher up the knob. A Blue trail is planned above the green with connections to a Black and Double Black Diamond trails, a skills development areas, and a jump trail. When finished Rocky Knob Park should have 6-8 miles of mountain bike trails for every skill level.

Rocky Knob is on the map

Howard’s Knob, Elk Knob, Grandfather Mountain. These are peaks high country residents know. Not Rocky Knob. Not until now. If you’ve driven 421 east out of Boone, you’ve probably noticed something’s afoot at Rocky Knob, Watauga County’s newest park.  Construction at the 185 acre park began on June 1st with an access road and parking area. Thus far Watauga County and the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (WCTDA) have received $515,000 in State and private foundation grant funds for the park. When finished, the 185 acre park will provide 7-9 miles of trails for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and nordic skiing in the winter. In addition, the park will offer an adventure playground, numerous shelters and picnicking areas, and a bike skills area.
On July 1, the WCTDA awarded Trail Dynamics, LLC of Cedar Mountain, NC with a contract to design and construct trails. The contract was negotiated to provide a hybrid build of the trails. Trail Dynamics will provide design and machine construction while volunteers from the Boone Area Cyclists will clear corridor and hand-finish the trails. This type of relationship keeps costs down and provides an investment of ownership by the volunteers.
On Thursday, July 29 at the Broyhill Inn at 6pm, the WCTDA will host the Rocky Knob Trail Kick Off meeting. Eric Woolridge, Outdoor Recreation Planner with the WCTDA, will provide an update on the current development and construction schedule of Rocky Knob Park. Also speaking will be Woody Keen, CEO of Trail Dynamics and President of the Professional Trail Builders Association.
Following this kick-off event, Boone Area Cyclists will have a volunteer trail building workday the weekend of July 31st – August 1st. More details will be available at the Trail Kick-Off Meeting and at