by Kate Shunney
A rainy Sunday morning didn’t dampen the lively atmosphere at Cacapon State Park this past weekend as 160 mountain bike racers gathered for the first Enduro event on the park’s new bike trails.
Racers of all ages hit the park’s trails in four stages, riding up the side of Cacapon Mountain on a former horseback trail to reach trail heads up top. Racers then came down the north and south loops of the Ziler Trail, hitting several lower trails as they zig-zagged across the park in timed stages that totaled close to five miles of trail.
Mountain bike riders and their families set up at the race hub at the Batt Pavilion. That area of the park has become the trail head for several new bike trails designed and built by a Winchester-area mountain bike group over the last two years.
This year, West Virginia’s Enduro race that was to be held at the Timberline Ski Resort near Canaan Valley was shifted to Cacapon State Park due to facility issues at Timberline.
The race challenges riders to both climb trails and race down. Riders wear helmets and other protective gear. On Sunday, wet trails from morning rains made riding goggles a necessity for many.
Cacapon’s race was part of the West Virginia Enduro Series, which includes races at parks and wilderness areas around the state. Enduro races will follow this spring at Valley Falls State Park and Kanawha State Forest. Racers are members of the West Virginia Mountain Biking Association.
Ethan Flanigan of Morgantown was first in the All Hardtail class.
Henry Brown of Eggleston, Va. took first in the 14 and under class.
Michael Carpenter of Harrisonburg, Va. took first in the over 45 class.
Gus Michael of Brevard, N.C. took first in the Men’s Pro/Expert class.
Lindsey Carpenter of Harrisonburg, Va. took first in the Women’s Pro/Expert class.
Isabelle Judy of Bowden, W.Va. took first in the Women’s 15-18 (Sophomore) class.
Russell Phlegar took first in the Men’s 15-18 (Sophomore) class.
Chase Cherubini took first in the Men’s Sport class.
Kelsey Kradel of Sewickley, Pa. took first in the Woman’s Sport class.
More trails, races
Cacapon State Park Superintendent Scott Fortney and Assistant Superintendent Kelly Smith said the mountain bike race was exactly the kind of activity they have been looking to bring to the state park.
Fortney said trail designer and volunteer Mark Hoyle has been the lead on adding mountain bike trails to the park’s existing hiking trail system, organizing labor to build the low-impact trails, mark and map them.
“There’s a great group of volunteers working not just on new trails, but working on maintaining existing trails,” said Fortney.
Hoyle has also used his involvement with the Winchester-area mountain biking group to bring more riders to Cacapon to explore and highlight it as a biking destination.
“We started this under two years ago and to already get to host an Enduro like this is exactly what we wanted. It’s another recreational opportunity to add to the park,” said Fortney. “To capture this event is huge.”
Park officials are working now to build a set of mountain bike trails that would meet the requirements of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) – a national student mountain biking association that encourages student ridership and skill building. Smith said those trails are already in the works.
Fortney said the park hopes to host a NICA student mountain biking race next year.
Hoyle has been raising funds for the NICA trails to match the park’s contributions. The group will build 3.2 miles of beginner-friendly trail in the southern part of the park to be used for middle and high school mountain bike team practices and races.
The park has already gotten a $7,500 grant to help pay for the trail course. There is a fundraising site in place through Fundly for future trail costs.
“Beginners need smooth, relatively flat trails to get started. It is really geared toward getting kids on bikes and off the couch,” said Hoyle. “Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing team sports in the US and neither Morgan County nor Frederick County, Va. have any NICA teams. There are teams all over West Virginia and Virginia, but the lack of suitable trails hinders our area being able to start this exciting sport.”