Bike Trails in the National Forest: What will the future hold for cyclists?

Ethan Anderson deep in Wilson's Creek.

You know we have outstanding riding here in the National Forests of North Carolina. If you’ve ridden in the Grandfather District (i.e. Wilson’s Creek) you know how we enjoy rugged, remote, and challenging trails. If you’ve ridden out there you most likely have heard and discussed the complicated state of our trails.  Our trails, like most other trails on Forest Service lands in NC, were never intended for recreation. Most of them are old timber extraction roads that provided quick access from point A to B. More and more riders are discovering these trails. The increased use along with difficult management issues have combined to create a mess in our backyard.

Some facts from the US Forest Service:

  • North Carolina has the highest number of user visits to National Forests in the country.
  • Two Recreation Rangers manage 267 miles of inventoried trails (not including “user created” or “unmanaged trails”) on the Grandfather District.
  • The Forest Service has a trail budget of about $366,000.
  • Only 16% of trails on NC National Forests meet National Trail Quality Standards.
  • Elevating the other 84% to National Quality Standards would require about $10k per mile according the the District’s estimate.
Justin Studt in over his head in one of Yancee Ridge's famed erosion gullies.

Justin Studt posses for perspective in one of Yancey Ridge's famed erosion gullies.

If you’ve ridden these trails for any length of time, you have seen the impacts of  increasing demands for recreation. Raspberry Ridge, for example, is an old classic that 10 years ago was a mellow trail. Now it is on it’s way to becoming a trench filled with rocky, technical challenges. While we may enjoy the challenge, it was never intended to be this way. What it will be like in another 10 years of ridding? The Forest Service acknowledges the problems with our trails and has prioritized addressing these problems.

On Monday, January 9, members of the Boone Area Cyclists were invited to participate in the opening sessions of the 2012 USFS Non-Motorized Trail Strategy. The strategy will be a collaborative process involving recreational stakeholders. User groups will provide input throughout a series of working meetings throughout 2012. At the opening meeting, the USFS led a group of cyclists, horseback riders, hikers to: 1) define qualities of the trail experience; and, 2) define sustainability of trails.

USFS Trail Strategy meeting. Morganton, NC.

The Forest Service seeks to identify trails in “good shape” and ones that are not. They also are looking at the potential of creating trail “complexes” and creating loop options. One example brought forward was the idea of a Highway 181 Trail Complex with loop options and connector trails that would create a “destination” for riders.

While the 3 hour meeting did not produce any solutions, it did reveal a new reality of cooperation. Not too many years ago, mountain bikers, horse back riders, and hikers could not be in the same room without major disagreements, blaming, and name-calling. Perhaps we’ve moved into a new era. Maybe we are recognizing our finite natural resources need our cooperation.

Purpose built fun: Rocky Knob Park

The Boone Area Cyclists plan to be an active part of this planning process. If you have any thoughts to share, send them on to . We’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.