by Mark Muro
Located a few miles southwest of Birmingham, Alabama, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park offers a plethora of activities. Camping and hiking, of course, but Tannehill also has a collection of historical buildings, craft demonstrations, a water-driven grist mill, a miniature railroad winding through the woods, the Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama, and, standing along the banks of Roupes Creek, reconstructions of the blast furnaces for which the park is named (the originals were destroyed during the Civil War). Conspicuously absent from this beautiful scene of hardwood and pine forested ridges, rock outcroppings, and tumbling creeks, however, was mountain biking. The Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers (BUMP) set out to remedy that, and where Union cavalry once swept through bent on destruction, riders of a different sort now roam the woods.
An agreement between park authorities and BUMP in 2009 opened the way for development of a mountain biking/hiking trail system at Tannehill, and volunteers from BUMP, WAMBA (Western Alabama Mountain Biking Association) and other park users set to work on an initial stretch of singletrack climbing the ridge above the furnaces and tying into the existing network of about four miles of doubletrack wagon roads from the pre-Civil War era. With the assistance of a Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew visit in 2010, three miles of volunteer-built singletrack were completed, and another nine miles laid out. Since that time, the Alabama land preservation program Forever Wild has purchased over 500 acres adjoining Tannehill, which will increase the park's size from about 1,500 to 2,000 acres and offer the possibility for still further expansion of the trail system.
Thanks to a recently-awarded $100,000 Recreational Trails Program grant, the remaining nine miles of the currently planned trail network will be completed by a professional trail contractor. This expansion will create a 12-mile system of singletrack that ranges from rocky, hand-built technical sections along the ridge tops to smooth, flowing machine-built trail laced through the woods. Matching funds for the RTP grant will come from a $12,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, volunteer labor, and also from an unusual source, which underscores the deep connections between the mountain and road biking communities in Birmingham, the Ironworks Century, a road cycling event based at Tannehill that has raised over $4,000 for trail construction and is poised to make another contribution when it runs again on April 14.