Mountain Biking

White Oak Mountain Trail System expanding to add Hamilton County’s first downhill mountain bike gravity trails – Chattanooga Times Free Press

Staff photo by Mark Pace / Trailbuilder Zack Gaston carries a rock to place along a downhill mountain bike trail to help with drainage on the White Oak Mountain trail system in Collegedale, Tennessee, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Southern Adventist University is expanding the trail system to include Hamilton Countyճ first downhill gravity trail.

Staff photo by Mark Pace / Trailbuilder Zack…

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

COLLEGEDALE, Tenn. — Southern Adventist University has been working quietly to grow its expansive trail network to include the county’s first downhill mountain bike gravity trails in a win for riders who have long awaited nearby options.

The additions will add two gravity trails — trails which have steeper-than-average descents — to the more than 35 miles of hiking and mountain biking paths already existing on campus. There will also be a trail to climb back to the top and a short connector to the university’s White Oak Mountain Trail system, previously called the Biology Trails. The crew began on the climbing line about three weeks ago and moved to building the downhill sections last week. The additions are expected to open sometime in or around June.

“They’re probably [classified as] intermediate,” said Todd Wever, a crew supervisor in the university’s landscape services department who is overseeing the project. “They won’t be advanced, but most of them, with the way they’re being designed, someone can ride the downhills without going airborne. They can just roll it and still have fun.”

The climbing line will allow users to try different sections or climb all the way to the top for a full run. The higher section will include bigger jumps and require more technical skills. The two trails are 4,700 and 4,000 feet long, descending 320 vertical feet in just under a mile. The climbing trail will be a little more than a mile at a more gradual incline. The longer gravity trail will be rated as more difficult than the shorter trail.

Trailbuilder Zack Gaston with Barry Smith Trails compares it to a slightly easier version of the Barn Burner at Knoxville’s Bakers Creek Preserve.

“It’s going to be easy to learn on and easy to progress with,” Gaston said, before his boss, Smith, added, “this isn’t going to be your typical cross-country trail, though. This is a downhill gravity trail.”

The addition came as a surprise to many in the mountain biking community. Downhill trails have long been sought locally. An outdoor recreational development in the works off Mountain Creek Road below the W Road also will bring downhill mountain bike trails. It was expected to be the first in the county until Southern Adventist’s announcement. Currently, the nearest gravity trails are the intermediate-to-advanced system at Trials Training Center in Sequatchie, Tennessee.

The new trails will connect to the university’s White Oak Mountain Trail System and include berms, step downs and some tabletop features.

“It’s a good thing to do for the community; it’s good relations,” Wever said. “It allows people to interact with Southern and see what we have here. It’s really a win-win for everybody.”

Maintaining natural habitat and green spaces has been a conscious decision on the 1,300-acre Southern Adventist campus. There are about 25 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails on White Oak Mountain and 12 miles at the nearby Bauxite system.

Wellness is a crucial part of the Seventh-Day Adventist faith, which owns and operates the university, and has been a mainstay of campus life. The university operates a rock climbing wall and a wellness center that is free to all students and faculty. Wellness is also built into the university’s curriculum.

“Nature is a gift from God. We’re really blessed to have so much of it around us and to share it with a community that has done so much for Southern,” university editorial manager Janell Hullquist said. “Helping our students develop those lifelong habits early on to get out and take care of their bodies is very important to us.”

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.