Mountain bike group building new trails at Cacapon

by Kate Shunney

A group of Winchester mountain bikers have added several miles of trails at Cacapon State Park for cyclists and hikers, and plan to create several loops through the park forests in the future.

The Winchester Wheelmen have coordinated their work with park officials, reopening old trails and creating new ones from the top of Cacapon Mountain down to the Nature Center. The all-volunteer effort has already racked up several hundred hours of planning, trail marking and clearing. New trails are cleared by hand, using rakes and heavy-duty hoes, chainsaws and hand saws.

Mark Hoyle, who is spearheading the effort by the mountain bikers, said his group has come to Cacapon since the late winter to work on trails. He estimates 20 volunteers have put in hours to clear the narrow trails along paths best suited for mountain bikes.

On Cacapon State Park’s trail work day last month, seven mountain bikers cut trees and raked trails above the Nature Center, and worked on a new route for a very wet section of the Central Trail above the park’s reservoir lake.

Hoyle said his group is using established guidelines for designing trails, but also paying close attention to the natural terrain of Cacapon State Park as they build.

He said good mountain bike trails have smooth turns, a grade

Mark Hoyle points out new trails for mountain bicyclists at Cacapon State Park.

between 5 and 10 percent, and long sight lines so riders can see trees and hikers along the trail. Trails also avoid wet areas, but often weave in and out of trees and around natural rocks.

Mountain bikers go both ways – up hillsides and down. Trails include spots for riders to stop and catch their breath as they work their way up.

“If the design for up is good, it’s good for down,” Hoyle said. “If you build it right, it feels like you’re floating.”

GiddyUp Trail

One of the first projects of the group was to reopen an old horse trail that led from the park’s Batt Pavilion up to the top of Cacapon Mountain. That trail, now called the GiddyUp Trail, connects to the Overlook Trail which runs the length of the park along the top of the mountain. It’s a wider and less steep alternative to the existing Ziler Trail, which has been used by mountain bikers but is showing signs of erosion.

Hoyle said the trail gives riders two options – to bike the paved road leading to the overlook, and then down the GiddyUp Trail to the Batt Pavilion, or along the trail both up and down.

The Batt Pavilion, located nearly a mile from the park’s main picnic and playground area, will serve as the “hub” for mountain biking at the park, said Park Superintendent Scott Fortney. There is ample parking there, and access to several trails.

Hoyle said the mountain biking trails at the park are between beginner and intermediate levels.

“A bunch of us are in our 30s and 40s and want a place we can take our kids,” said Hoyle.

Cacapon Assistant Superintendent Kelly Smith said mountain bikers have been coming to the park for years, and she has encouraged them to use certain trails that won’t interfere with foot traffic. Now they are creating new places to bike using old trails. Smith said the volunteers have put in serious work, and their efforts will benefit not just mountain bikers but hikers as well.

“We’re trying to increase recreational opportunities safely,” she said.

There are just under five miles of new trail already built by the mountain bikers. A total of 20 miles of new trail are planned.

Hoyle said work will slow down over the summer, when volunteers are busy with family obligations and the weather is too hot for trail work.

He hopes visitors to the park will use what they’ve already built.

“Giving back – it’s kind of part of the culture of mountain biking,” said Hoyle.