The secret is out: East Tennessee is building on its reputation as a mountain biker’s heaven.
With the opening last week of a new bike park in Oak Ridge, the region now boasts six— and soon to be seven — mountain biking parks and trails.
“We know we currently are a regional draw and well on our way to becoming a national draw,” said Legacy Parks director Carol Evans.
Dirt Lab, named for its proximity to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is the latest in a collection of parks that has made this rugged part of the state a burgeoning mountain biking hotspot.
The Oak Ridge park features opportunities for bikers of all ages and abilities to learn and build on their skills.
It’s just one more gathering place for those who love the sport.
“It is definitely gaining popularity and this is further supported by the number of trail systems and mountain bike parks that are being built in the area,” said Brad Spears, president of the Clinch Valley Trail Alliance. “In fact, I’d argue that East Tennessee is becoming a destination for mountain bikers.”
Aspire, a world-class 450-acre bike park, is under construction in Clinton. Together with Windrock Park in Oliver Springs, the parks bring in mountain biking enthusiasts from all over the world for events. Norris Dam State Park added its 2.5-mile Elkins Trail in 2016.
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Additionally, Knoxville recently enhanced its $2 million Baker Creek Preserve, making more than 50 miles of mountain biking trail connect in the Urban Wilderness. The Urban Wilderness features the “Devil’s Racetrack,” the region’s only double-black diamond downhill trail, which brings in advanced and expert riders.
And while Dirt Lab, which cost just $50,000, may be less flashy, it’s a product of local passion for the sport.
“Ours might be modest, but it was built by and completely funded by the community,” said Spears. Clinch Valley Trail Alliance developed the project, Oak Ridge businesses and the local biking community raised the funds and volunteers built it.
“It’s a different experience than you might get at another park but how it came together is something special,” Spears said.
Dirt Lab includes a concrete pump track to practice turns, jumps, concrete bridges, narrow boards and a launch pad consisting of three jump or drop features.
There’s also a pavilion where parents and others can relax and watch their kids or friends practice.
“It’s going to continue to evolve,” Spears said. “We’re building new features so we can allow people to keep experimenting with new skills.”
Studies estimate positive economic impact
Evans said economic impact from bike trails hasn’t been studied yet, but she did point to a June 2015 Baker Center study on Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness as being “predictive of the economic impact bike trails can have.”
“Few cities outside the Rocky Mountain region have trail systems or bike parks within 10 miles of downtown with as many trail miles as the Urban Wilderness,” the study said. “This proximity to retail, entertainment, and lodging implies a greater potential economic impact compared to most other trail systems.”
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: East Tennessee builds on its reputation as a world-class mountain biking destination