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When Ed Sutton first came to Cherokee in November to break ground on a new trail system, his directive was clear.

“We told him his marching orders were just make it great. Make it awesome,” said Jeremy Hyatt, natural resources and construction director for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The snip of a ribbon declared the destination that mountain bikers are hailing as “amazing” and “world-class” to be open for business last week, when Cherokee officially opened its new 10.5-mile Fire Mountain Trail System. 

“There’s been a lot of hard work and dedication to make this a reality, to make this trail system a reality — and the reality we’ve created is a premier trail system for the region,” said Jeremy Hyatt, secretary of administration for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

A fleet of new mountain bikes has come home to roost at Swain County High School, thanks to a donation from Bryson City Bicycles.

In December 2016, the bike shop landed an award from Synchrony Financial that granted it $10,000 to grow the business and another $10,000 earmarked for a community project of its choosing. Bryson City Bicycles was one of only five small businesses nationwide to land one of the Working Forward Small Business Awards, and co-owner Diane Cutler had no doubts about where in the community she wanted to invest that $10,000.

When Ed Sutton first came to Cherokee in November to break ground on a new trail system, his directive was clear. 

“We told him his marching orders were just make it great. Make it awesome,” said Jeremy Hyatt, Secretary of Administration for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

For those who love the outdoors, it’s not hard to list the reasons why Western North Carolina is a spectacular place to live, and from that standpoint, the year 2016 certainly didn’t fail to deliver. The curtains are now closing on 2016, but the year will get its proper send-off with this roundup of favorite moments and memorable stories from the past 12 months outdoors.

A meeting seeking feedback on an emerging plan to turn Sylva’s Pinnacle Park into a mountain biking destination drew about 70 people to the Mad Batter Food and Film last week, and after a night of fielding questions and taking comments, the folks behind the effort are feeling positive about its future. 

For the past decade, Sylva’s Pinnacle Park has had Sae Smyrl envisioning a lofty future for the hiking area. A mountain biker for the past 40 years, Smyrl would walk the trail and think how great it would be to ride his bike through the 1,100-acre forest. Bikes are allowed on the existing trail, but it’s way too steep for the sport to be fun. 

A plan is now afoot to make Smyrl’s dream a reality, with the Nantahala Area Southern Off Road Bicycling Association pursuing a goal to bring some 30 miles of biking trail, featuring loops of various difficulty levels, to the Fisher Creek watershed. 

out frBy Jamie Arnold • Contributing writer

It’s a 95-degree Sunday afternoon. Most folks are at the lake, or lounging on the couch with a cold beer. Me? I’m on my mountain bike, grinding my way up a 5,000-foot mountain, all because my buddy Don decided to add the Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell to his bucket list.  

Following the vein of cheap tattoos, lost wallets and accidental scars, a beer-induced challenge ended with both of us registered to compete in the infamous July 31 event. Now, two months later, we’re winding our way up a dusty brown gravel wall. A loud truck rumbles past, throwing even more gritty dust into the stifling 90-degree air. I glance down at my wheels to see the slow, never-ending gravel treadmill as I pick my way up the mountain.  

out fakeit“So, are you here as a reporter or as a biker?” asked one of the 100-plus shorts-wearing, bike-bearing people converged on Tsali Trailhead last Friday.

out frThe parking lot at Tsali Recreation Area was full of bikes Friday evening — more than 100 of them, strapped to the backs of sedans and SUVs, tied into beds of pickup trucks, license plates running the gamut from Florida to Virginia to Mississippi. Gears were spun, wheelies popped, hoorahs yelled as mountain bikes shot down the trail or gathered in a shiny metal line to await the start of the group ride.

SEE ALSO: Fake it till you make it

“I’m kinda excited,” said Rob Burgess, prepping his bike in the parking lot. “Tsali is one of the epic trails.”

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