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A High School History Lesson on Alabama Trails

A High School History Lesson on Alabama Trails

The McClellan System Revitalizes a Historic Site and Gives NICA Athletes a Place to Ride

By: Sunny Larson
Posted: October 10, 2019
McClellan Trails Ribbon Cutting
Photo courtesy of: Josh Collins

The new trails in McClellan, Alabama, were built with high-school mountain bike racers in mind, but 78-year-old Jerry York had his own reason for wanting to ride the dirt. His son, Preston York, is one of the trail builders. Preston has been riding mountain bikes for over a decade and building trails for about 6 1/2 years. His company, FlowMotion Trail Builders, has been working in conjunction with IMBA Trail Solutions to build the new system that will provide beginner and intermediate trails for the community.
 
June 16 was both Father’s Day and Jerry’s birthday, and Preston, having recently finished his 100th mile of trail, wanted to show his dad what he had been working on. “My dad surprised me by telling me he had bought a bike and wanted to ride the trails. It was the first time he had ever ridden a mountain bike or ridden on a trail,” says Preston, who was more than happy to join him. The two pedaled around sporting big grins while admiring Preston’s handiwork. Jerry says he plans to keep riding.
 

78-year-old Jerry and his son Preston York try out the new trails at McClellan.

Photo credit: Josh Collins


The McClellan Trails also tie in with a third generation of Yorks. Preston’s grandfather (Jerry’s father) was a sergeant in the 771st tank battalion and was posted at Fort McClellan, once a major training facility for the U.S. Army. Jerry and Preston rode the Reveille Trail, a name borrowed from French that refers to a wake-up signal for troops. Other trail names in the system honor the military heritage of the area with Retreat; WAC (Women’s Army Corps); and Two-Star Betty, named after the first female two-star general in the U.S. Army, Major General Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Clarke, rounding out the muster.
 
McClellan is a 10,000-acre parcel of land that was turned over to the local community for economic redevelopment after the former Fort McClellan closure in 1999. The property is near and dear to many McClellan residents who have generational ties to the fort, and community members are happy to see idle areas of the property upcycled into residential developments, businesses, parks, and now, the McClellan Trails.
 

 Watch out for wildlife: Donoho Falcons team riders get outside and active.

Photo credit: Burton Benkwith


The trail project got its start through Freeman Fite of the McClellan Development Authority, who rides the trails at nearby Coldwater Mountain. “I saw the popularity of mountain biking at Coldwater just to the north,” says Fite, “and I thought the McClellan property could have its own trail system.” He shared his idea with Tom Nelson, president of the local bike club, the Northeast Alabama Bicycling Association (NEABA). Nelson knew that the local middle- and high-school kids participating in the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) league needed a place to train and ride. He also knew that NICA venues could generate excitement about biking throughout the community and stimulate the local economy.
 
“I went to the McClellan Development Authority board meeting with Freeman,” says Nelson, “and we talked about the economic impact of cycling events in the area. If we could get on the NICA race calendar, you’re talking about 2000 people in town for the weekend or even longer since people pre-ride the trails. The NICA thing is growing leaps and bounds here in Alabama.”

 

Student-athletes at last year's Alabama NICA championships.

Photo courtesy of Alabama NICA Race Media


Nelson and local NICA representatives scouted locations for the trails and settled on Sunset Hill and the base of the Baltzell Mountains right next to a recreation complex with soccer fields. The site provides ample space for parking and spectating, and the soccer fields provide different recreation options for families and groups. “McClellan is the perfect venue for a NICA race, and once it’s expanded, other kinds of bike events, too,” says Nelson. Expansion of the trails is planned for the coming months, and Nelson is already imagining a NEABA endurance event at McClellan.
 
The mellow slopes at McClellan offer a less challenging experience for beginning and intermediate riders than the Coldwater Trails. But that doesn’t mean the trails are slow. They’re smooth, flowy, and fast. Designed specifically as a high-school race course and the first in the state to be certified by NICA, the trail will host the second regional NICA race of the season in the spring of 2020.
 
Alyssa Fagan rides for the NICA Cheaha Composite team. “I’m very excited because this trail is so close to my home,” says Fagan. “The feeling when you’re out on the trail—just the excitement of it because there are a lot of things that are going on at one time, and you get to go really, really fast. It’s just really exciting.”

 



Alyssa Fagan races for the Cheaha Composite teams.

Photo courtesy of Alabama NICA Race Media

Patrick Wig, who owns the local bike store, Wig’s Wheels, sponsors three of the local NICA teams. He has noticed both residents and visitors taking to the trails, “People are already coming in from all over the region—Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery. It’s rare to go out there and not see a NICA jersey, but you’ll see all kinds of people, from 3-year-olds on Striders to the best bikers around. It’s a very fast and fun trail.”

 

The McClellan Trails attract riders of all ages. 

Photo credit: Josh Collins


“I think the trails will help significantly with recruiting new riders,” says Burton Benkwith, coach of the Donoho NICA team. “Our local trails, Coldwater Mountain, can be intimidating. The NICA trails are way more fun for inexperienced riders. I’m already hearing about locals who were ‘one and done’ at Coldwater who love to ride the new trails.”
 
Matthew Johnson, coach of the Jacksonville high-school team, says having the trails so close by benefits the teams, “We have another local trail within riding distance from our high school, but the trails are very difficult and not good for beginners. Having the McClellan trails will give us a home course that we can practice on during the school week or on weekends. Not only is the access extremely convenient, but the trails are perfectly suited for our NICA riders. We are very excited about hosting our first home race this season!”

 

Jacksonville High School NICA team members at McClellan Trails

Photo credit: Josh Collins

The McClellan Trails, along with Coldwater Mountain, make up Anniston, Alabama's, IMBA Bronze-Level Ride Center™.

About the author

Sunny grew up on the North Shore of Vancouver, Canada and has spent most of her adult life in Utah. She loves riding in the forest, the desert, and everywhere in between. Coaching the local NICA high-school team allows Sunny to share her love of mountain biking with kids—including her own.…

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