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.