Making it awesome — Cherokee unveils 10-mile mountain biking system
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.
“You couldn’t give me a better mission statement than that,” said Sutton, a trail builder for Brevard-based Trail Dynamics.
Opened just this past May, the 154-acre property boasts 10 to 12 miles of trail with various segments catering to ability levels from beginner to advanced, all available via a trailhead at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, less than a mile from downtown Cherokee.
With more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain from the top of Mount Noble to the parking lot, the maze of trails weaving up and down the mountainside will offer plenty of challenge for more advanced riders, Sutton said, while tamer loops will give beginners the chance to give mountain biking a try without venturing far from home. Runners and hikers will also be welcome to explore the trails.
“I think we have a good entry-level beginner trail,” he said. “I think we have what I would call a very rhythmic intermediate trail, and then we have a slope-style one-directional trail which will be mostly downhill and it will have jumps, big berms, lots of rollers.
Cherokee-based Aniwaya Design & Planning with trail specialist Valerie Naylor was hired to design the trails, and Trail Dynamics was engaged to build them.
Zach Goings, 31, hasn’t let the previous lack of mountain biking facilities deter him from pursuing the sport of his choice, but in the past he’d pack up and drive two hours to DuPont State Forest if he wanted to spend a whole day on the trails. However, he’s ridden around the mountain where the new trail system was built for the past 12 years, and the road up to the fire tower was one of the first trails he ever rode.
“It’s a little bittersweet because the first time I came up here and saw it, the first bottom section was totally different, but I am really excited that this is available locally,” Goings said.
“I think it’s going to be good for Cherokee,” he added, “and hopefully we’ll be able to add onto it in the future.”
When completed, Cherokee’s trail system will certainly not be the only mountain biking system in Western North Carolina. The nationally celebrated Tsali Recreation Area lies 23 miles to the west, and Western Carolina University’s trail system is 21 miles to the southeast. Drive a little further, and there’s the Bent Creek Recreation Area in Asheville, trails in the Pisgah National Forest near Mills River, and DuPont State Forest. Sylva has been discussing someday installing mountain bike trails on its Pinnacle Park property.
Cherokee is in good company.
The diversity of existing mountain bike offerings in Western North Carolina wasn’t a deterrent in planning Cherokee’s system, however. It was actually an encouragement. Sutton referred to the Tsali and WCU systems as “complimentary” systems — with the three mountain biking areas existing in such close proximity, they’ll essentially combine forces to create a more powerful draw for out-of-town bikers than any one of them could do alone. Each trail system has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own target demographic.
“Tsali is what I would call the ultimate beginner experience, but for more advanced riders this trail system is going to have a lot more excitement and the kinds of features that advanced riders are looking for,” Sutton said.
Of course, it will also include easier sections too, and that’s by design. The goal is appeal to as broad a base of riders as possible.
“We want to encourage families to come in and do stuff together, and visitors to have another option when they come to visit Cherokee,” Jenks said.
With the Great Smoky Mountains National Park right next door, outdoor adventures are already a big motivator for people to visit Cherokee. But the park doesn’t offer any mountain biking trails, so developing a system in town seemed a golden opportunity.
Sutton, who lives in the mountain biking-crazed town of Brevard, agrees.
“We’ve become a biking town, and a lot of it is because of the local trails that have been developed over the last 15 years,” Sutton said. “A community like Cherokee could eventually have something on a smaller scale, but become a destination.”