Black Mountain Trail: To reroute or not to reroute?

Let’s face it, Garth and Wayne from Wayne’s World aren’t the only ones that don’t like change….

We mountain bikers fear change too. We don't want to see our favorite technical trails get too much maintenance (some might call this getting sanitized). And we are pretty protective over our local trails, being forced to adapt to the ever-changing world, i.e., more trail users, weather causing erosion, and the need for good trail design and maintenance.

If you've been hiding out in the forest with no internet for the last year, there's this thing called Coronavirus, and it's changed the world a lot, including more people finding the love for the outdoors and specifically mountain biking! While we think the growth in mountain biking is AWESOME and is exciting, it requires more long-term planning for trails on public land. It's a simple equation: lots of rain + more trail users = more erosion!

In a recent Pinkbike article Brice Shirbach referred to a group of locals as the "Keep Pisgah Whatever" crowd, a group of cranky people that refuse to accept that things have to change whether they like it or not. The article ruffled a few feathers as it was on the cusp of the announcement that one of our favorite trails would be rerouted, Black Mountain Trail. The keyword here is rerouted, not reworked. This means the old trail would be shut down and an entirely new route cut in, therefore changing the character of this iconic trail forever.

We have such a personal connection with this trail. Black Mountain Trail happens to be co-adapted by Crankjoy and Cognative through working with our local volunteer organization Pisgah Area SORBA (PAS). I love this trail! It's one of the most technical around and will challenge you no matter how many times you ride it. When it first came out that the reroute was on the table, we didn't just accept it and move on. We asked every question, examining every viable alternative to closing it. It became apparent pretty quickly that fixing the existing trail was not an option for a few reasons. One of the biggest reasons was the amount of rock armoring needed to stabilize the current trail to be sustainable; It was staggering… and it's costly! At the end of the day, rehabbing the existing trail was only a temporary fix, not a long-term solution.

Before we start talking about moving forward with the new trail, let's take a step back and discuss why this amazing trail is getting rerouted in the first place. The National Forest Service budget gets cut every year, regardless of which political party is in office. Less budget = the need for more volunteers! So why does the Forest Service decommission an active trail? Typically, this happens when it becomes unsustainable and creates environmental issues like sediment in local rivers and streams. Another issue is the widening of the trail corridor. As technical fall line trails get rowdier, people start taking the liberty of not only going around features but even cutting down trees to create new routes around them! For this section of Black Mountain that is getting rerouted, this is the main reason we are saying goodbye to it; at least, this is why it is happening right now. Widening the corridor is a quick way to get your favorite trail shut down! There are many stages in developing a new trail on public land, including a NEPA study (The National Environmental Policy Act). NEPA studies ensure the trail corridor does not harm the environment, i.e., endangered species and protecting historic Native American sites. When it comes down to it, this section of Black Mountain Trail has everything working against it to keep the existing trail!

So, where do we go from here? We accept the fact that things change! When it comes down to it, the right thing to do is protect the resource (The Forest). And while this means sometimes the trails we love won't be the same, it does ensure we have trails to ride now and for future generations. I'd be lying to you if I told you I wouldn't miss the old section of the Black Mountain trail. I've had the chance to walk the new trail corridor and even participate in a couple of volunteer trail workdays with the crew, and I am getting excited about the new trail that's coming!

Our volunteers went in to remove the brush cut by the trail crew ahead of the actual trail building. Dragging Mountain Laurel tangles on a steep hillside proved to be more challenging than we expected!

It's exciting to be a part of a new sustainably built trail that will be around for generations to come, and some would even call it a privilege. If you're like me and love riding your bike in the forest, here are a few things you can do right now to help keep your favorite trails open and work towards the development of new trail systems:

  • Always stay in the current trail corridor and never cut down trees without working directly under the group responsible for your trails.
  • Be smart about riding wet trails. We live in a rainforest, so it's rarely not wet here! Excessive rainfall and mountain bike tires working together can wreak havoc on a lot of trail surfaces.
  • Know what type of trail you are on, ie hiking, hiking & biking, hiking & biking & horseback riding, and whether or not e-bikes are permitted.
  • Be Nice, Say Hi to other user groups! Out of control mountain bikers almost running over hikers will only hurt our voice and relationship with the forest service. Be aware of where you are riding, and make sure to yield and be friendly with other user groups.
  • Join your local volunteer club! I can't stress this enough… it's the best investment you can make if you love to ride your bike. Most club dues are less than $50 a year. There is strength in numbers, and the larger our voice is, the more say we'll have when it comes to public land trails.
  • Get involved and give back. Volunteering for just a couple of trail works days a year can go a long way, and it also brings the community together.

     

    We've got a lot in store for this year and will continue our efforts to help fund much-needed projects on your favorite trails through our 2% For the Trails Program. Thanks for all of your support, and I'll see you out on the trails soon! 

    Austin Bankert

    Founder