The city’s mountain bike enthusiasts will have a new place to ride as Columbia Parks & Recreation presented a new project to meet the high demand.
Parks staff presented the new mountain bike trail project, located off Bear Creek Pike near the new Columbia Fire Station No. 3 and E.A. Cox Middle School, to Columbia City Council this week.
Parks Director Mack Reagan said the work dates back to late November, and that the new track will meet the demand his department has received over the last year, especially those wishing for more outdoor recreation options during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The track features 2.5 miles of beginner, intermediate and advanced single-tack trails across approximately 20 acres, including several cross-country trails and downhill options with natural slopes, gaps and other features to explore.
‘Groundbreaking’ trails for all ages
Parks operations manager Alex Troge, who oversaw much of the project’s development, described the new bike course as “really groundbreaking, no pun intended,” and is the type of project that could play a part in developing similar projects in the future.
“We’ve never done anything like this, and the undertaking was quite new for all of us,” Troge said. “One of the biggest things was the demand we saw in the past year. With the health crisis, we saw a demand for public use areas that spread us out and got us outside, together but separate, which is where the demand for trails really came in.”
Mountain biking was the type of activity that seemed to best fit that model, he added. It would also designate specific geographic amenities for mountain biking, including jumps, ramps and other aspects not afforded with a typical pedestrian park trail.
“Biking and mountain biking fit that area really well, and now that we have a demand for mountain biking, we have a demand for specialized locations for mountain biking,” Troge said. “It’s great to go down to Riverwalk Park and some of our other parks like Woodland, but it doesn’t necessarily offer the dynamic terrain and things like that that a mountain biker certainly enjoys.”
The trails also provide a way of gathering and being out in nature and help form healthy habits.
The trail was also designed to be utilized by all ages and experience levels, with multiple tracks for all skills, designed in a way in which the more you ride, the better you’ll get.
“Mountain biking can be very scary, especially when you are at the top of a very steep hill looking down. So I wanted to make a trail that was user friendly, and not necessarily intimidating,” Troge said. “We have smaller loops that are about a quarter mile that you can start on, and progress from there. The mountain bike trails are highly progressive in that aspect, where you can start as a beginner and build yourself up all the way to an advanced rider, just on our trail system.”
In developing the trails, Troge said he wanted to “keep as much of it in-house,” without the influence or funding from outside sources, if possible. This not only saved on money , but added a sense of personal pride that, “We as a community did this ourselves.”
There was also an effort to preserve the natural landscape of the area, rather than simply bulldozing over existing land. In addition, the parks department also constructed multiple housing structures for the area’s wildlife.
“One thing I noticed when we were building these trails is that wildlife was using these trails as much as we were,” Troge said. “Without fail, whenever we opened up a new trail, the next day there would be deer tracks on there.”
The project, which Troge said is about 95% done, cost roughly $10,000, funded by the city, and included approximately 300 volunteer hours to complete.
The next step will be creating a a comprehensive network for riders online, as well as offering training courses like “Ride with a Pro Day” for beginners in addition to other public programs and races that encourage more ridership.
“We’re also thinking about doing a ‘mountain biking 101’ video series through our new website,” Troge said. “Maintenance can also be done in-house. This is not specialized work, and through building this, we’ve all learned how to manufacture trails, which is a great skill moving forward.”
The trails also do not have an official name, which is something Troge said the city could possibly establish to “put the final stamp on it.”
High praise for trail design
Reagan praised the department’s work in building the trails, and when comparing it to other trail systems he’s worked on in other cities, “they don’t come close to what we’ve got here.”
“I’m not going to lie, and I often mention how I’ve worked with several systems and departments, and I’ve never seen anything like this nationally,” Reagan said. “You’ve basically got a trail system for 1/100 of the price of a competitor, and they did an outstanding job. This is something that will be award-winning.”
Mayor Chaz Molder thanked the parks department for its hard work to provide a brand new amenity for citizens at a low cost.
“I can’t think of a better project we could have seen first-hand tonight,” Molder said. “With the opportunities here now and in the future, this is truly an exciting thing.”
Councilman Kenny Marshall, an avid mountain biker, also praised the new course, mostly because he’s already traversed its trails and is ready to go back.
“It was a fast hour that I spent out there, and it was great trails,” Marshall told Reagan and Troge. “I can’t wait to get back out there too. You all did a great job on it.”
Councilman Tony Greene also pointed out that the trails represent physical evidence of the work the city does in providing the best for its citizens.
“It’s a reflection of the direction of the city council and where each department is going with our scope in Columbia, not only saving money but having a futuristic vision of where we need to go as a city,” he said. “Now there is something physical, people can go out and grab, look and gaze upon and say, ‘Wow, I never knew we had this in Columbia.'”