Soon Boone will have its first mountain bike park.
"This is going to be tremendous," Kristian Jackson, trail boss and volunteer coordinator, said. "There is nothing like it in this part of North Carolina."
The terrain of the Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park is rocky and steep, rising almost 4,000 feet in elevation, and consists of two knobs. Boulders scatter the property, and a stream runs through the eastern side of the park.
"(There are) a few cliff bands, a pretty mature hardwood forest, and lots of rhododendron," Jackson said. "It's quite beautiful. The public is going to enjoy their experience out there."
The first phase of the 7- to 9-mile trail system started last fall and consists of two loops and features about 3 miles on the lower part of the mountain.
"(This portion of the trail) will provide fun for everybody, but especially for entry level riders and beginners just getting into mountain biking," Jackson said.
Trail Dynamics of Cedar Mountain is constructing the first phase of the park, while Benchmark Trails of Greenville, S.C., will break ground this week for Phase II, which builds upon the first phase and continues further up the mountain, providing challenging terrain for intermediate and advanced riders.
Aside from the biking trails, there are other future plans for the park - an adventure playground for kids, bike skills area, pavilions, picnic areas and a hiking trail "for some fun family adventures on foot," Jackson said.
Volunteers have been crucial in the creation of the Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park. On any given Thursday evenings, which are volunteer trail nights, 15 to 25 people show up to help. Community groups like Mountain Alliance from Watauga High School, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Appalachian and the Community Together have all logged volunteer hours.
The contracts awarded to the trail building crews are hybrid contracts, meaning that volunteers participate in the trail construction, such as clearing the land with chainsaws and hand finishing the trails, to offset costs.
"There has been a great response from the community," Eric Woolridge, project manager and outdoor recreation planner for the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), said.
"Boone Area Cyclists have stepped up big time, saving us thousands of dollars on trail construction and logging over 1500 volunteer hours."
Woolridge sees this park, along with other ongoing outdoor recreation projects in the area, as a great addition to local tourism, which helps our small businesses.
Shaw Brown, owner of Boone Bike and Touring, has already felt the impact of the Rocky Knob Mountain Bike Park. So far, he has sold two bikes specifically to customers who anticipate the new park.
"The word's finally got out, and customers are mentioning (Rocky Knob)," Brown said. "They've been wanting to get into (mountain biking,) but they don't want to drive to Wilkesboro. So they went ahead and bought something because it's opening up pretty soon."
Currently, cyclists have to drive to Wilkesboro or Wilson's Creek, at least 30 minutes away, for a mountain biking experience. Soon - as there is no official opening date set - they won't have to leave Boone.
The park is located just east of the city limits with frontage on U.S. 421 and is adjacent to the landfill. For more than 20 years, a majority of the land sat dormant. Now it will be a part of the many outdoor recreational areas the High Country already offers.
"What we are trying to do is really build destination quality mountain biking opportunities," Jackson said. "That is what we are trying to achieve here. We are pulling in bikers from elsewhere and giving them an amazing experience."
Funding for the park was derived from a 6-percent occupancy tax levied on short term lodging rentals in Watauga County by the TDA. That revenue was then leveraged to receive a $500,000 grant from N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. Also, two $5,000 grants were secured from Bikes Belong Foundation and Specialized Bicycles, which were made accessible through the TDA's partnership with Boone Area Cyclists.
For updates on the project's progress click to rockyknob.wordpress.com and http://www.booneareacyclists.com.
If you want to volunteer, e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)