Fire Mountain Trails set for major expansion
By JONAH LOSSIAH
Mountain bikers can rejoice. New trails are coming to Cherokee.
Five years after the original Fire mountain bike trail system was completed, EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Operations and EBCI Project Management began work to more than double the trail network on the Qualla border . The project is slated for a $2 million investment that will see 12-15 miles of new trails and much more.
“We just signed a contract with IMBA, the International Mountain Biking Association, to do what we call Fire Mountain Expansion. Although it will not be attached to Fire Mountain, it will be along the same lines. Mountain bike trails, state-of-the-art asphalt pump track, top track, skill park and bike play area. We’re trying to lower the entry point,” said Jeremy Hyatt, EBCI’s operations secretary.
With new mountain biking projects popping up in the area, they want it to stand out and help make Cherokee an outdoor destination.
“There will be nothing like it in western North Carolina. There will be nothing like it in this region. We will do it right. It will be an amazing park for cycling activities,” said Secretary Hyatt.
Hyatt said they were looking to cover their bases with this project. This will help lower the entry point for new riders, while providing even tougher rides for those with more experience.
“When I talk about lowering the entry point. This will be a perfect opportunity for our community, kids and families to get out there and take their little guys on the strider bikes until grown adults can use it. They can enjoy this space as a family,” said Secretary Hyatt.
“With these trails, we will try to increase the amplitude. More gravity type trails. Bigger jumps, bigger features. But also, there will be multi-use trails built into that for people to walk on.
The pump track site should be near the Highway 441 welcome sign, near the parking lot of the Barclay Building and Native Brews. Hyatt said the property is currently underutilized but could have enormous value to the tribe.
“The mountain bike trails themselves will be just up the road just above the water plant. We got permission to use this tribal property to build these trails. The topography of the area itself is just about too steep for good accommodation. For reasonable accommodation. Granted, you could build something up there, but it would be exorbitant in terms of price.
The expansion will not connect to the current Fire Mountain Trail system due to private property located between the two sites.
“We haven’t tried to negotiate, but there are several plots of land. Eventually, we would like that to happen. We would like to start a conversation with the possessory holders who are between these two parcels of property and see if there is a way we can find it so they can connect. At this time, we have not engaged in this conversation with each of them.
Chris Greene, head of project management, said the high cost comes from the more complex infrastructure they are looking to establish. Greene and Hyatt said that, including maintenance and additions, the tribe has invested approximately $500,000 in the current trail system. This project seems to be four times that price.
“The reason the cost is higher is the pump tracks. They are asphalt, they are designed. They’re going to have to have an artificial drainage system. So it will cost you a bit more to do it. But there is no maintenance and high impact. We were talking about having a toddler track here. So this will help the younger ones get started. Then hopefully they will move on to the bigger trails,” Greene said.
Hyatt said this project is very affordable considering the potential impact and limited maintenance. On top of that, many facets that they would like to implement are already in place. This includes bathrooms, electricity and accessibility.
“The problem with building these things is that ultimately, like with Fire Mountain, you don’t have to invest a lot of money after the fact. It’s just little things. A pavilion here, a pavilion there. You’re redirecting a trail here, you’re adding a different feature here. These things aren’t very expensive, but it keeps things fresh,” Secretary Hyatt said.
He said they wanted to create a space that catches the eye. Given its location, these new trails will be one of the first things visitors to Cherokee will see when they arrive on the Qualla frontier.
“It will be more than Fire Mountain and Fire Mountain Disc Golf Sanctuary. It will be visible when you pass. The others don’t. You have to somehow find them. So in terms of aesthetics, it’s going to be pleasing to the eye”
Greene said Fire Mountain has helped spark some excitement for Cherokee, but ecotourism needs to be kept progressive.
“We try to compete at the regional level. We have Knoxville building miles and miles of trails every year. You have Chattanooga, Asheville, Brevard, they add every year. Just to stay competitive and be known in the area, you need to add to your trail network. This is what we do. It’s a low-cost, high-impact kind of thing. We almost have to run it like an amusement park, every year we have to add a feature to stay relevant,” Greene said.
Hyatt said this project will provide convenience to the community while stimulating ecotourism in the area. He said he was looking forward to getting the process started.
“I think we are answering the call from the local community that we need more things to do for our young people. I think with Fire Mountain Trails, with the disc golf course, and with it coming online in a few years, I think we’re answering that call.
The project is currently in the survey and due diligence phase, but Greene said they hope to have preliminary designs within the next few months. There is no scheduled date for groundbreaking, but they expect 100% completion by 2024.