MAY 5, 2011 ISSUE

New Mountain Biking Parks Debut in the Boone Area

Rocky Knob Opens in Boone, Adventure Trail Opens in Beech Mountain

Beech Mountain’s biking trails often offer distant views. Photo by Randy Johnson
Paul Stahlschmidt, president of Boone Area Cyclists, received an award for his tireless volunteer efforts at Rocky Knob. Kristian Jackson was also recognized for his work on the park. Photo by Kristian Jackson

Boone area mountain biking took a big step forward last Sunday with the opening of Rocky Knob Park in Boone and the Adventure Trail Park atop Beech Mountain.

Rocky Knob’s first phase opened with the 1.6-mile Rocky Branch Trail on May 1. Another 6.5 miles of trail is currently under construction, with a total of more than eight miles expected to be open by the end of summer, said Eric Woolridge, outdoor recreation planner for the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority. The trails are just outside of Boone on U.S. 421 toward Deep Gap.

Beech Mountain’s Emerald Outback opened with eight miles of trails accessible from a newly finalized trailhead located across Beech Mountain Parkway opposite town hall and the Beech Mountain Visitors Center. Up to 25 miles of trails are planned in three phases.

N.C. Sen. Dan Soucek spoke to a crowd of 100 people at Rocky Knob. He hopped on a mountain bike and rode the trail twice, saying later in an interview that the trail builders “did a top-notch job.” Soucek, who has “always been involved in the outdoors,” said that “new mountain biking trails fill a great need for the area.”

“I’m really impressed with the incredible community involvement in buy-in and volunteer time,” Soucek said, referring to nearly 2,000 hours of volunteer effort contributed by the Boone Area Cyclists (BAC) organization and many individuals.

The Watauga TDA presented awards to Paul Stahlschmidt, president of BAC, and Kristian Jackson, “trail boss” for the BAC’s effort. Woolridge said, “Without their leadership and hard work, Rocky Knob wouldn’t have been able to open this quickly.”

Rocky Knob’s two phases are being built by the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority, funded with more than a half million dollars in grant money. Beech Mountain’s trails were the 2009 inspiration of Beech Mountain Fitness and Wellness Coordinator Daniel Scagnelli, who worked with local bikers and hikers, including sports teams from local universities. The trail network includes reclaimed stretches of pre-existing trails and road grades and new paths blended together with significant work by volunteers and town employees.

Senator Dan Soucek was on hand to help open the first phase of Boone’s Rocky Knob Park last Sunday. Photo by Kristian Jackson

Watauga TDA Executive Director Wright Tilley attended the opening and walked the trail while his 6-year-old son Ward rode.

“I was impressed,” Tilley said. “It’s pretty close to as good a trail as you can get,” he said. “My son’s reaction was, “Can we come here every day?’”

Tilley said, “It sends a very positive message when, in one year, you can go from 400 people attending an outdoor recreation summit in 2010, to purchasing, designing, developing and opening a new mountain bike park in 2011. Rocky Knob shows that we’re serious about enhancing outdoor recreation infrastructure for visitors and locals.”

Watauga TDA Chair Rob Holton said, “Rocky Knob is the first new tourism product for the Boone Area in quite some time,” and Tilley added, “Between Rocky Knob, new trails on Beech, and the Kerr Scott trails near Wilkesboro, the High Country is on its way to becoming a major, weekend-or-longer destination for mountain biking.”

Beech Mountain’s new trails are intended to make it “a destination for hiking and mountain biking,” says Fred Pfohl, chairman of the Beech Mountain Parks and Recreation Committee. “You’re talking about some of the highest mountain biking on the East coast.”

The trails’ lofty elevation of between 4,700 and 5,400 feet is expected to appeal to riders and runners interested in serious cardiovascular training—and escape from the heat found lower down. Pfohl sees runners as a major target for the trails, with the eventual goal being to stage a high-elevation marathon.

Eric Woolridge said Rocky Knob is expected to mount a grand opening in early 2012 with the addition of a bike skills area of “challenge features,” a shelter and a “unique adventure playground constructed of natural materials that fits the environment of Rocky Knob Park.”