Mountain Biking

Mountain bike racing competitions coming to Touch of Nature starting Aug. 18 – The Southern


Mountain bike racing competitions coming to Touch of Nature starting Aug. 18

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Phillip Carrier, of Carbondale, takes a sharp turn on his mountain bike on a trail at Southern Illinois University’s Touch of Nature. 

Provided by Brandon Macier

JOHN D. HOMAN For The Southern

CARBONDALE — SIU’s Touch of Nature just south of Carbondale has three races scheduled in the weeks ahead at the newly opened multiuse trail system. 

The series of races – Aug. 28, Sept. 18 and Nov. 20 –  serves as the official launch for Touch of Nature’s trail system created after seven years of planning and preparation. The first phase of the nation’s only university-affiliated multiuse trail includes 10 miles of natural surface single-track trail for use by bikers, hikers, runners and walkers. 

J.D. Tanner, director of SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center, said he started the project with input from the International Mountain Biking Association. 

“Planning and development took off in 2015 with help from a graduate assistant (Molly Maxwell) and continued with the next grad (Isaiah Tanner). Molly helped with planning and grant applications. Isaiah worked on actual building/construction with volunteer crews,” Tanner said. 

The races are expected to draw a crowd, both of participants and onlookers.

“We are hoping for 40-to-50 racers for the Aug. 28 and Sept. 18 races and maybe 75-to-100 for the Nov. 20 race,” Tanner said. “For the race course, we worked with the Bike Surgeon of Carbondale and Shawnee Mountain Bike Association. The course was designed to highlight our best trails and to give spectators as many viewing options as possible during the race. “We will also be including some of our foot traffic-only trails for the course to highlight Little Grassy Lake and our camps. The toughest logistics include a couple of road crossings where Campus Police and volunteers will assist.”

Tanner said that the ultimate goal of developing a trail system and the specific race course is to introduce mountain biking to Southern Illinois.

“Until May 1 of this year, there was no designated trails in the region for riders. We wanted to offer a new community health and wellness opportunity to the region, and with that, bring in tourism dollars.”

Since opening nearly four months ago, the course has already proven quite popular with bikers. When completed, the trail system will encompass about 30 miles of stacked loop trails, an adult terrain park, a children’s terrain park, and event center space and other trail features. 

“The biggest importance of this trail system is working to improve the quality of life in this area for locals while bringing in tourism dollars to all the local shops, hotels, restaurants, wineries, etc.,” Tanner added. 

Proceeds from the three races will go toward continuing construction of the trail system project. 

Patrick Work, representing the Bike Surgeon in Carbondale, said there have been many benefits to the creation of the trail already. 

“It provides a safe alternative for riders of all abilities,” he said. “I’ve personally witnessed many first rides from 3 years old up to 60 at Touch of Nature, and riding on the road is very intimidating to a lot of folks.”

Work said he is convinced the new trail system will attract tourism. 

“I have spoken with several out-of-state bikers who have told me they plan to bring their bikes back and compete.”

And when out-of-staters come to Carbondale to compete, they dine in local restaurants, shop in local stores and sleep in local hotels.

“We haven’t had a mountain bike market since I opened the store in ’09. This trail opens up a whole new market for riders,” Work said. “And what’s great is that these trails are much easier for beginners to learn on than those in the Shawnee Forest. “While the trails aren’t technically challenging to the experienced rider, they are designed extremely well with lots of flow and are fun to ride with a good workout. The best part is that riders of all skill levels can ride together.”

Work said more riders also means more volunteer workers. 

“I also see more in the way of grants and private donations,” he said. 

First race is Aug. 28

The fall mountain bike race series kicks off with divisions for racers of every age and experience level. Racers must wear helmets and will compete with staggered start times on varied course lengths. The divisions include:

  • Kids (boys and girls), ages 13 and younger
  • Junior men, ages 14-17
  • Junior women, ages 14-17
  • Beginner men
  • Beginner women
  • Sport men
  • Sport women
  • Expert men
  • Expert women.

Winners will claim prizes in each division. Register online by Aug. 26 for $35. The fee includes lunch.

Race 2 in September

The second race is on Sept. 18 and will feature the same race divisions and format as the August race. Registration is also $35 per person and required no later than Sept. 16.

For both races, race packets will be available at 8 a.m. at Freeberg Hall at Touch of Nature’s Camp 2 and a pre-race meeting starts at 8:45 a.m.

The races for both the August and September events include:

  • Men and women expert races at 9 a.m. including three 8-mile laps.
  • Men and women sport races at 9:30 a.m. featuring two 8-mile laps.
  • Men and women beginner races at 10 a.m. consisting of one 8-mile lap.
  • Races for juniors ages 14-17 at 10:10 a.m. and children ages 13 and under beginning at 10:20 a.m.

All race start times are subject to change. Check the website for updates.

Final race of season in November

The last race of the 2021 Catalyst Race Series is Nov. 20 and will be part of a full weekend of biking activities. More details about this exciting weekend are coming soon at ton.siu.edu/.

More event details

Parking for riders and spectators is available at the upper and lower parking lots at Camp 2 with additional parking at the main trailhead near the entrance to Touch of Nature Environmental Center, about eight miles south of Carbondale off Giant City Road. Viewing locations will be available along the course but spectators will need to walk to various locations from the main trailhead parking lot. Food and beverages will be available beginning at 10 a.m. The awards ceremony is slated to start about noon.

Sponsors include Touch of Nature Environmental Center, the SIU Credit Union, the Bike Surgeon and the Shawnee Mountain Bike Association. For more information about the new multiuse trail system or Touch of Nature, visit ton.siu.edu, call 618-453-1121 or email tonec@siu.edu.

— Some information for this story was provided by the SIU News Service 

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