By Robin Allen
It’s been a year since Walt Bready and I traveled to Anniston, Alabama to get our first glimpse of Alabama’s newest mountain bike trail system, built in partnership with the State of Alabama, IMBA-SORBA and its Northeast Alabama Mountain Bicycle Association chapter, and IMBA Trail Solutions. IMBA Trail Solutions was spending two weeks designing, flagging, and digging, wading into the project before full-scale construction would begin the next year. The access road to the trailhead was a short swath of dirt that led up the first few hundred feet of the mountain, as construction on it had just begun. Yet, IMBA Trail Solutions was on the mountain in full force, using every available moment to move the project forward before this all-hands training session was over, and the crews would move on to other projects. Walt and I pitched in, walking the property, flagging, and helping construct a wide, sweeping turn near the trailhead.
Fast forward to February, 2012, and ITS Trail Specialists Stephen Mullins and Joey Klein returned to Coldwater Mountain to begin construction in earnest. They were soon joined by other ITS staff, and both Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crews dropped in to lead back-to-back volunteer weekends. Walt and I were excited to see how this up-and-coming mountain bikers’ paradise was shaping up for its anticipated spring 2012 grand opening.
We met up with the crew for dinner at Mellow Mushroom in Oxford, which is appropriately themed with bicycle decor. Even though the crew had spent the day hard at work, they were smiling, excited about what they had done, and looking forward to what lay ahead. We caught up with Rich Edwards, Stephen Mullins, Joey Klein, Tony Boone, Aaron Rogers, Elias Featherly, Shane Wilson, Steve and Morgan Lommele, and local advocate Preston York.
Over dinner, we learned that one mile of trail is complete, and that rocks are ubiquitous. The crews can’t just plow through the soil, they have to remove rocks--lots and lots and lots of them. Those of us familiar with building in the Appalachians know that’s just the way these old mountains are. These rocks were formed as an ancient seabed that was cataclysmically tilted and broken when North America joined Africa. They command respect and add to the beauty of the mountain, but they sure don’t make for easy construction. Although slow to work with, these rocks also add to the trail experience, as the crews are taking advantage of them to build Technical Trail Features and armor the tread.
The next morning Walt and I hooked up with Joey and Tony to begin our tour. We started at the top of the mountain, at the future trailhead parking lot, where we had spent time working the year before. The lower bit of trail we’d worked on was just the same as when we’d left it, but the upper turn had been moved and improved by Tony. After admiring the work, left Tony to do his magic with the Sweco (“he’s a master,” proclaims Joey), while Joey escorted us to the second work site, nicknamed Bomb Dog Trail, in honor of Alabama’s first trained bomb-sniffing dog.
Joey shared his impression of the trail on the way over. “Coldwater is badass. It has lots of flavors, and is topographically blessed. This system will be well rounded, having a little bit of everything—berms, TTFs, jumps, rollers, challenging climbs, and fun descents. It’s like a little roller coaster in the forest. The trail you’re about to see will include a three-mile climb with a three-mile descent.”
We had a bit of a hike before us, and Joey drew us a map, giving us clear directions on how to find the site before he split to join up again with Tony. “Once you get close, you’ll hear the machines”, he emphasized, adding that “it shouldn’t take you more than 15 or 20 minutes to hike there”. 40 minutes later, Walt called the crew, we had not found them, nor had we heard any machines. Given fresh instructions, we were soon on the new trail, heading down to find the crew.
This trail is SO sweet! It has a smooth tread that curves and rolls. Berms flank turns, and alt lines abound. If you want to jump or roll some rocks, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. All you have to do is steer to the side to enjoy one of the many challenges built next to the main tread. You’re surrounded by a forest full of hardwoods and pines that occasionally opens up just enough to give you a glimpse of the city below. Walt and I got a taste, and we are craving more.
One of the great aspects of this trail, aside from how great it’s going to be to ride, is how enthusiastically the community supports it. The townies around the mountain are excited, pitching in monetary donations and volunteer labor. The Anniston Star gives the project regular, positive coverage. And the State of Alabama is also behind the project. “Outstanding outdoor recreation facilities, like the one at Coldwater Mountain, not only lead to a more fit society, but they have a significant economic impact on a community,” said Jim Byard Jr., director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. “ADECA is proud to participate in Coldwater Mountain, and I have no doubt that this project will be a magnet to attract cycling enthusiasts throughout the United States.”
IMBA-SORBA's Executive Director, Tom Sauret, says, "This project exemplifies what can be accomplished by working together. The community, the local chapter, IMBA Trail Solutions, and SORBA could not construct a trail system of this magnitude alone. Together, we're very strong, and we're able to accomplish so much more. This project exemplifies the power of partnerships".
Coldwater Mountain is well underway to becoming more than just a dream. The first 12 miles of trail are scheduled to open this spring, as soon as the access road is complete. Riders will flock to see this new wonder, and IMBA-SORBA and its partners will continue the work to fund and build an additional 48 miles of trail on the mountain. A trail system of this magnitude has never before been built in the Southeast—it’s something special. But, it’s almost here, and it’s just the beginning. The future of mountain biking in our region is taking off. Won’t you come along for the ride?