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Endless fun: Raccoon Creek Bike Park takes shape

An artist rendering shows what the completed Racoon Creek Bike Park might look like. Haywood County photo An artist rendering shows what the completed Racoon Creek Bike Park might look like. Haywood County photo

For years, the old Francis Farm landfill was just that — a leaky, gassy problem that did little but sap resources from the county charged with maintaining it in perpetuity.

Now, after years of environmental stewardship, the 76-acre site is about to be reborn as a free, state-of-the art amenity that will benefit locals, tourists and the region’s growing outdoor economy. 

“Raccoon Creek all came to fruition a few years ago when the recreation department was shifting what kind of activities they would be offering by looking into what the community really wanted,”said Elli Flagg, Haywood County’s parks and recreation director. “They had an idea for this space over by the landfill — we don’t really like to use the word ‘landfill’ when we talk about it, but it is where it is — and a bike park came up.”

Atlanta-area native Flagg has been with Haywood County for about three months, holds a degree in recreation, parks and tourism management and came to North Carolina after a stint as recreation director for Prince of Wales Island, Alaska. Despite being new to the job, Flagg has taken it upon herself to pedal the project across the finish line.

In 1973, the Francis Farm landfill began accepting waste until it finally closed in 1995. However, in October 1976, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated that solid waste landfills like Francis Farm must henceforth be constructed with an impermeable liner at the bottom. Had that requirement been issued just a few years earlier, Haywood County taxpayers could have avoided a costly mess.

A $1 million federal grant in 2010 helped pay for methane and groundwater monitoring. About a decade ago, the county purchased additional tracts surrounding the landfill, adding 44 acres to the existing 28. In 2019, environmental surveys found that seepage was under control, and by 2022 a $5.4 million restrictive cover was placed over the landfill to all but eliminate rainwater infiltration that picks up pollution and carries it beyond the confines of the site.

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Although the county will continue to monitor conditions at the site, remediation is largely complete. Call it “economic development judo” if you like — making something out of nothing, turning pollution into profits or problems into potential — but Flagg calls it something else.

“Basically, it’s just endless fun,” she said.

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The Raccoon Creek Bike Park’s mascot, “Rowdy,” was coined by a student at Lake Junaluska Elementary named Donovan, who won the naming contest. Haywood County photo

The Racoon Creek Bike Park’s soft opening, planned for spring 2025, is still a ways off, but phase one of the project is moving quickly. The 15,000 square-foot pump track, a circular trail with berms and rollers, will take about eight weeks to complete, beginning in July. Other amenities, like bathrooms, a parking lot and pavilion, will have to wait until the spring thaw.

Construction of the track was made possible through a $500,000 grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, $100,000 from the North Carolina Trails Committee, matching funds from the county, and $150,000 from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority as part of its special “one-time” project fund designed to encourage amenities that both serve locals and put heads in hotel beds.

Once complete, the park will complement Canton’s Chestnut Mountain Park and make Haywood County a more attractive destination for riders of all skill levels.

“The really unique thing with ‘adventure tourism’ is, people will go on trips of multiple days to experience a specific activity sport if there’s multiple offerings in an area,” Flagg said. “Look at places like Brevard. It is seriously competing for the number one spot in all of North America for the best mountain biking. The thing about Chestnut Mountain is, people are probably just going to come in for the day and go ride, but if they’re coming in for a longer amount of time, they’re probably going to other trails in other counties and spending those tourism dollars over there.”

Since the project’s conception, certification of the pump track by energy drink manufacturer Red Bull has been a goal; sponsored events such as the Red Bull Pump Track World Championship draw competitors and tourists, as well as major media coverage. In 2022, Gaston County played host to the event.

A crowdfunding effort is currently underway that will move the project into phase two, the addition of some backcountry mountain biking trails spread across three or four miles of empty space in and around the park. Planning costs are estimated at $25,000, and Flagg said she expects the county to pursue trailmaking grants in furtherance of the addition.

Once everything’s complete, Flagg said that the county could institute activities, classes and programs, especially for middle-school kids.

“I’m really looking forward to getting some use out of our mountain bikes for middle school ages,” she said. “There’s lots of activities for elementary school kids, and high school kids are working. That middle school age is where we lose a lot of kids to maybe not-so-favorable stuff.”

There’s also the possibility of utilizing the park’s infrastructure to better access nearby Raccoon Creek for other activities.

Haywood County Public Information Officer Dillon Huffman has his hands in many aspects of county government, and from a higher perspective summed up why the county’s so “pumped up” about the park.

“I think this will just be another great attraction that will draw people here. I mean, everybody loves to be outside, right? There’s so much going on, we’ve got a lot of different opportunities for people to be involved and I think this just complements what is already here in Haywood County,” Huffman said. “It just makes everything bigger and better.”

You can help

Mountain biking is a top outdoor activity in Western North Carolina and can also have a significant impact on the regional outdoor economy. Haywood County’s Raccoon Creek Bike Park will soon join Canton’s Chestnut Mountain as a premiere destination for riders of all skill levels, and you can help phase two of Raccoon Creek — backcountry mountain biking trails — become a reality with a donation today. A variety of sponsorship levels are available, some of which include your name engraved on a metal “donor tree” that will be erected at the site.

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To make a contribution, scan the QR code or email Haywood County Recreation and Parks Director Elli Flagg at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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