Outdoors enthusiasts and diehard mountain bikers soon will be taking to a new trail accessible by foot, or bike, from the Western Carolina University campus in Cullowhee, N.C. The trail is expected to be a vital link in a recreation system that may one day expand to connect county, regional and even state trails.
But immediate goals are to provide a close-to-home source of leisure for residents in the area, as well as university students looking to leave from their dorms or apartments and be on a secluded, wooded trail within minutes.
Josh Whitmore, associate director of outdoor programs at WCU, as well as the project’s point man, said it’s a shame many students come to Cullowhee because they’re attracted by the mountains and other outdoor features, but then realize it’s not so easy to pick up and enjoy them.
“One of great ironies of having a university in the mountains is that, yeah, there are great mountains around,” Whitmore said. “But, you have to get in a car to get to them. It’ll be nice to have something right on campus.”
Otherwise the closest mountain bike trails are either in the Pisgah National Forest, Panthertown Valley or the Tsali Recreation Area in the Nantahala National Forest.
The trail is single-track, about two to three feet wide, though its design limits blind turns and bikers’ speeds thereby accommodating walkers and cyclists on the same path.
Whitmore described the trail as intermediate in difficulty with steep mountainside terrain. Although the elevation change from the trail’s highest to lowest point is only a few hundred feet, there are lots of ups and downs.
There is potential for linking the new trail with the Tuckasegee Greenway—a multi-use path that, at least conceptually, will connect Whittier to WCU along the Tuckasegee River.
Mountain biking in the National Forests
• Pisgah National Forest, N.C. — The national forest is divided into three regions: The western part of the Appalachian runs along the N.C.-Tenn. line from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park north to Hot Springs. The eastern region covers the Blue Ridge Parkway, Roan Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Craggy Gardens. The Grandfather district lies in the eastern mountains of N.C. and includes areas along the Blue Ridge, such as the Linville Gorge Wilderness, and areas near Grandfather Mountain. Head to Bent Creek, Mills River or the Davidson River trailheads in the Appalachian district for great biking. For more rugged riding, look to Big Ivy.
• Nantahala National Forest, N.C. — Tsali Recreation Area has long been considered a top destination for mountain biking in Western North Carolina with nearly 40 miles of trails. Trails alternate use between mountain bikers and horseback riders. In Panthertown Valley, trails bear a little less marking. It is advised to carry navigational tools or know the area before embarking. Plan to set off on foot to visit some of the area’s waterfalls.
• Cherokee National Forest, Tenn. — The Tanasi Trail System offers more than 20 miles of trails shared by bikers and hikers. Chilhowee Mountain Bike Trail System also boasts more than 20 miles from Parksville Campground at the bottom of the mountain to Chilhowee Recreation Area at the top. Because of the change in elevation (from about 600 feet to more than 2,000 feet) this trail system offers some challenges to both the mountain biker and the hiker. Many trails offer stream crossings. Other trails provide opportunities to ride a mountain bike to a fire tower, through the woods, or around a lake.
• Chattahoochee National Forest, Ga. — The well-known Aska Trail System with approximately 17 miles of recreational trails for bicyclists and hikers. Trails range in length from 1.0 mile to 5.1 miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. The Jake and Bull Mountain Trail Systems have approximately 36 miles of recreational trails for equestrians, bicyclists and hikers. The systems connect to form a complex system of scenic trails within a four-square-mile area.