Approval has been given for a mountain bike trail to be built in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but there's no money dedicated for its construction, and park staff are still looking into how it should be operated.
The trail is proposed to be built within the Wears Valley portion of the Foothills Parkway in the Tennessee half of the park. According to a park release, the purpose of the project is to enhance visitor experience by providing a mountain bike trail as a unique recreational opportunity in this area of the park.
Previous NPS planning efforts completed between 1968 and 1984 identified Section 8D of the Wears Valley as one of the most desirable areas for recreational development. While more than 800 miles of trails exist in the park, fewer than 8 miles are designated for biking. Public roads within the park are open to biking, but no purpose-built mountain biking trails currently exist.
After conducting an environmental assessment on the proposal, the park staff selected an alternative to build a mountain bike trail system with approximately 4.2 miles of easy trail, 2.9 miles of moderate trail, and 4.7 miles of advanced trail for a total of 11.8 miles of mountain bike trails. The alternative would also include approximately 2.3 miles of pedestrian-only trails in the project area, for a total of 14.1 miles of trails. An approximately 0.93-mile access road would also need to be constructed to access the mountain bike trail system and trailhead. Amenities at the trailhead would include a bike wash and repair station, restrooms, and picnic tables. An informational kiosk for orientation, trail etiquette, and rules for mountain biking would also be constructed at the trailhead.
“We understand the public’s desire to have a purpose-built bike trail, and this marks a step for potential future development of a trail in Wears Valley,” said Great Smoky Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Having the signed [Finding of No Significant Impact] allows us the opportunity to explore potential funding paths for both the construction and the annual operational costs.”
Next steps include a business analysis by the NPS to examine possible operational strategies for a mountain bike trail system. The selected alternative may also include a concession/bike rental building and/or a fee collection station, depending on the identified operational strategy. No funding for construction has yet been identified.
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