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Welcoming new riders to our trails

Welcoming new riders to our trails

SORBA Tri-Cities uses Dig In to share the love for mountain biking in Appalachia

Posted: February 21, 2023
Mountain biker with a headlight riding through the woods in Bristol, VA
Photo courtesy of: Jesse Cheers

There are some days I don’t want “my” trails to be “our” trails. There are days I pull up in the parking lot and wish that I could fling open the door as wide as possible, throw my riding gear on the gravel, and not worry about taking up the space. Those are inevitably the days when I meet the 75 year-old newcomer to the area who is out with his ten year-old dogs exploring the park for the first time; or the six year-old who just got their first bike for their birthday and is “going to be a mountain biker” tomorrow. 

At that point, trails once again become “our” trails and honestly, it makes my heart sing. It sings because of a love for the outdoors and everything mountain biking. It sings for the memory of being an excited newcomer to the woods. It sings because we just really need to share. 

As I find myself nearing the age of the Master’s Class for most races, mountain biking is still the love of my life, my activity of choice, and the thing that I want to share the most. That love is shared by so many riders here in our small community.

A green trail gateway to the mountains

Photo by Jesse Cheers
"Two mountain bikers turning on a trail in Bristol, VA"

“Our” local trail system is located in a city park in the very corner of southwest Virginia, in a small town called Bristol. We are in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, so most of our trails are far too difficult for newcomers and the birthday bikes. They are too difficult for new riders, young riders, and those who just want a gentle walk in the woods. 

Our local riders are passionate about sharing their love of mountain biking and trails. We trail build for free as much as we can. We coach youth teams and clubs. We tirelessly clear trails and rework maps and signage. We introduce people to our phenomenal trail system and make them feel welcome and as safe as possible. This love of biking and trails led us to pursue a true beginner trail in our park.

This idea originated with local riders and trail advocates with ties to the park who are too numerous to mention. Oh, and one of them has a granddaughter who wants to be a mountain biker so, really, it had to be done. After a few discussions, and a bit of rock kicking in the rain, the plan was born and work on the Flying Squirrel Trail in the Sugar Hollow system started.

The plan is to build a one mile loop of green multi-use trail that can be easily accessed from a nearby parking lot. Beginner trails are an important piece of instilling and growing a love of mountain biking and trails. The Flying Squirrel Trail will provide a place for true beginners to spend time on an actual trail; a place for people who are unable to tackle more challenging terrain the chance to get into the woods; and a place to provide an outdoor learning environment for local students. The existing trails are especially difficult, challenging, and intimidating for new or less experienced riders and hikers. Our goal is to give them a place to build skills and confidence with the hope that we will soon see them enjoying other trails in the park.

Funding our mountain bike dreams

Photo by Jesse Cheers
"A young mountain biker riding through the woods in Bristol, VA"

The Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) provided the information needed by our Chapter SORBA Tri-Cities to apply for a Dig In grant, a matching grant organized by IMBA and funded by Shimano. We met with city leaders to pitch the need for this trail in the Sugar Hollow system and received approval for the project layout. We then wrote our grant, with a projected total cost of $15,000, and submitted it to IMBA. As luck would have it, we were awarded one of the Dig In grants. We are currently in the process of raising funds to unlock a match from Shimano.

Being the Appalachians, rocks are a given here. While most of the trail will be machine cut by trail professionals, it will require a considerable amount of hand-work from volunteers to “finish,” where rocks are removed and gaps between the undulating terrain are bridged. It is in no way the most difficult trail build we will have undertaken, but it may well be the most important for our community, for our sport, and for the future of trails in our small Appalachian town. 

Being mountain bike dreamers, we envision more high school mountain bike teams forming in our community, strider bikes zooming around, Little Bellas meeting every week, and students learning to “leave no trace” on this little trail. Sometimes the simplest things can lead to the greatest returns. We are fortunate companies like Shimano see this and are willing to help make our vision happen one grant at a time.

The advantages and benefits of being outdoors for anyone, at any age, for any activity are undeniable. To have the opportunity to be a part of that is a gift, especially in the heart of Appalachia where beginner experiences may plant the seed for stewardship, health, and a love of the great outdoors.


The Sugar Hollow Beginner Trail is one of six projects in this round of Dig In. Check out the current projects and help make the visions of local trail communities a reality. Applications for the next grant cycle opens on May 1.

Dig In projects

About the author
Headshot of Wendy Cheers

Wendy has been riding trails since 1997. Her favorite thing is introducing new people to mountain biking, one of the greatest loves of her life. She believes trails can heal “many a broken thing.” She considers it an honor to be a small part of people having a place to enjoy the outdoors.

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