It dips and dives, banks and turns, unfolding with a fast-flowing rhythm that allows riders to glide across its curves.
“Roller coaster is a perfect description for it,” said Chris Berry with the nonprofit Star City Cycling.
Roanoke’s newest stretch of mountain biking trail was crafted to fill an undermet need by appealing to both new and veteran cyclists.
The one-mile trail loop, built by volunteers at Morningside Park, is a “flow trail” with a smooth earthen surface that makes it beginner friendly as well as a series of ebbs and turns that create a fun ride for even advanced cyclists.
The layout allows riders to customize their experience. For beginners, it’s a safe and easy-to-access spot to hone their skills.
For the more experienced, it’s a fast and fun run with opportunities for jumps or other challenges.
“You don’t want people to be overwhelmed, and you don’t want them to be underwhelmed,” Michael Carnrike, a trail builder and volunteer with Star City Cycling, said of the design. “You want to create repeat customers who will keep coming by.”
Making it easier for more people to be part of the region’s popular cycling scene was a major goal of this project and dovetails with a broader, regional effort to cement the Roanoke Valley as a mountain biking hub.
The region already enjoys miles of scenic mountain biking trails but advocates are working to diversify and expand those amenities.
One particular need identified is more features that help newer riders get into the sport and sharpen their skills. That is work well familiar to Star City Cycling. The nonprofit works with children and junior cyclists with the mission of kindling a lifelong love of the outdoors and growing the next generation of biking enthusiasts.
The group, a little more than a year ago, began developing the idea of building a local bike park as a means of giving back to the cycling community.
Morningside Park, located along the Roanoke River in southeast, offered a site easily accessible to families, greenway users, and the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Virginia, which sits right next door.
The park also had a large, underused swath of woods. With the city’s signoff, volunteers donated nearly 900 hours to clear trash out of those woods and shape the path for the flow trail.
A crowdfunding campaign spearheaded by the Roanoke Outside Foundation quickly raised about $6,400 needed to rent the heavy equipment required to finish the trail work.
The loop reached substantial completion last month and is now open to riders. Cosmetic work and other finishing touches will continue in the coming weeks.
The trail is the first phase of what organizers hope will be a two-part project. Plans for phase two call for a series of jump trails that progress in difficulty level, a dual slalom course, and an advanced skills development area.
The overarching idea is to create a park that can support riders of all experience levels and help them work on their skills in an unintimidating environment.
“We want to have trails at the very beginner level and, once you’re comfortable, you can move on to the next area and the next one, each progressively more challenging,” said Berry, who volunteers as executive director of Star City Cycling.
Making it easier to try cycling promotes healthy living and introduces more people to the region’s outdoor amenities, he said.
Roanoke isn’t alone in working to expand and highlight the valley’s mountain biking resources. In Roanoke County, grants have been secured to bring a bike skills park to Explore Park. Franklin County has plans underway for trail work at Waid Park.
And the entire region partnered, through Virginia’s Blue Ridge, to seek recognition last year through the International Mountain Bicycling Association, securing its second-highest, silver-level rating — the only East Coast community to earn that designation.
Projects like that in Morningside Park help boost the regional network and push it closer toward its ultimate goal of one day getting gold-level certification from the International Mountain Bicycling Association, said Pete Eshelman, director of outdoor branding with Roanoke Outside.
Eshelman added he continues to be impressed by how the community rallies around its outdoor resources. The crowdfunding campaign for the flow trail reached its goal in just three weeks.
The plans for the bike park’s second phase are still pending. A proposal was just submitted to the city for review, and community meetings about these and other possible park projects are being held now.
On the flow trail’s opening day, more than 100 people came out to try it, an outpouring of support that exceeded expectations.
Calvin Curry, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club, said the trail is also proving popular with their kids.
Star City Cycling partners with the agency to offer their kids free programs and is a perennial favorite among them, Curry said.
After trying out the flow loop, one boy came back and excitedly told him about mastering the course’s hills and curves.
“That’s pretty neat,” Curry said, “to hear a young person be proud of what they were able to do outside, versus in a video game or something.”
“That is the kind of excitement we love to see.”