A Puzzle of Rock
Chattanooga, Tennessee, may have the coolest backyard ever. Less than 10 miles from the city center, Mountain Creek Park will offer the community an urban recreation experience with 8 to 12 miles of natural surface trails for beginner to expert mountain bike riding, exceptional bouldering, and hiking trails for scenic exploration. With 800 feet of vertical drop and swarms of gnarly rock formations, the park will also provide some serious stoke with the first advanced downhill-style trails in the Chattanooga region.
Mountain Creek Park is the brainchild of six recreation and conservation groups, including the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy (NCCC) and the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association (SORBA) Chattanooga, the IMBA Local mountain bike organization. Their collaboration demonstrates the power of cooperation and imagination. Through an IMBA Trail Accelerator grant, the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy has received $12,500 to launch their innovative park and trail plan offering new opportunities for local and regional riders and increasing access to the outdoors for the nearby Red Bank school system and surrounding low- and middle-income communities.
“Chattanooga is a progressive, multidisciplinary recreation community of mountain bikers, climbers, hikers, and paddlers—one of the outdoor hubs of the southeast,” says Kevin Smith, president of SORBA Chattanooga. “We already have 100 miles of singletrack, and our ridership wanted some new advanced, downhill, gravity trails. It was a little daunting. We didn’t know if we could get such an ambitious venture done. But we worked with land managers, addressed the liability issues, and checked out what has been done in some nearby communities. Now with IMBA’s help in creating these advanced trails, Mountain Creek Park is going to be the crown jewel of Chattanooga outdoor recreation.”
The IMBA Trail Solutions team traveled to Tennessee to get a feel for the site, meet with stakeholders, and engage the community. Steve Kasacek, IMBA project manager, is excited about the project. “We had an amazing site meeting with the stakeholders in Chattanooga,” says Kasacek. “ The stoke was high as we hoofed around the site talking about one of the most progressive, modern outdoor recreation projects I've been a part of. A healthy dose of rocks and 800 feet of vertical give us a great canvas to plan and design scenic climbing trails for hikers, runners, and riders; access to boulders for climbers; and a whole bunch of shuttle-served gravity runs.”
The trail system concept and design, presented by IMBA to interested community members at an evening social gathering, generated similar excitement. “The team at IMBA is so enthusiastic, they create a lot of energy around the project,” says Taft Sibley, president of the North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy. “We had a huge crowd for the project announcement, certainly our largest turn out for a trail planning event. As Steve shared the concept and design we have developed so far, a hush fell over the crowd. He brought the plans to life, educated everyone on how a trail becomes a trail, and explained how the project partners can work together to create a state-of-the-art trail system. Everyone in the room got so excited, they wanted the trails ready the next day.”
More recently, Randy Spangler, an IMBA trail specialist and icon of mountain bike freeride, visited the Mountain Creek site to provide his expertise on the technical gravity trails. Randy is a veteran competitor, course builder and judge of the internationally-renowned Red Bull Rampage and has built bike trails and parks across the country and the world. With his skills in the mix, the downhill trails in the new network will be, in a word: legit.
So Chattanooga riders, get out your slacky-est forks and poppy-est shocks, but don’t forget your balance bikes, hiking boots, and bouldering pads either. Mountain Creek Park will provide fun for everyone, from beginner to expert mountain bikers to climbers, runners, hikers, and anyone else who wants to get out and play in the Tennessee woods.