Monday, February 21, 2011

Mountain bike trail coming to Mount Airy Forest

Cincinnati is poised to get its first mountain bike trail in Mount Airy Forest, thanks to a City Council motion adopted last Wednesday.

The motion directs the Cincinnati Park Board to work with the Cincinnati Off Road Alliance (CORA) and other volunteers to develop up to 20 miles of trails in the western portion of the 1,459-acre park, west of Interstate 74.

The Mount Airy Forest Backcountry Trails would start with a 7.5-mile loop for various skill levels, designed and constructed to sustainable, International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) standards.

"The trails will be built in an underutilized area of Mt. Airy Forest and will be built to international mountain biking trail design standards that minimize erosion because they are designed to go with the contours and gently traverse the topography," says Wes Munzel, a Mount Washington resident and recreational mountain biker who helped change Cincinnati Parks' trail policy.

That policy was outlined in June 2010 by Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden Jr., who, in a report to City Council, Carden said that empirical evidence suggested that the trails cause environmental damage, lead to crime and vandalism in parks, and are far too costly to maintain given the City's current budget.

But on August 3, 2010, Cincinnati City Council's Livable Communities Committee directed Cincinnati Parks to work with a by-then committed group of biking enthusiasts to design and build a trail somewhere in the City.

CORA submitted a full proposal for the Mount Airy Forest trails in November 2010.

A collaborative process

Separated by an interstate highway, the western portion of Mount Airy Forest is heavily forested and is relatively undiscovered by park users.

"The park has perfect topography for highly desired single track trails that traverse gently across the slopes moving with the contours," the proposal said, describing numerous switchbacks and an elevation gain of approximately 380 feet.

CORA will provide all labor and materials and will be responsible for the trail's construction and maintenance.

"This is a great example of a collaborative process to implement a vision of the City Council and residents," Munzel says. "CORA, Parks, me and several Council members met several times over the past few months to discuss the concepts."

The loop is expected to take a year to design, to organize a work schedule, and to solicit volunteers. When construction begins, volunteers will work one day per month, creating approximately 1/4 mile of additional useable trail each time.
CORA has more than 20 IMBA-certified trail builders in its group and maintains five regional mountain bike trails, the closest at Mitchell Memorial Forest near Cleves.

'It's not a huge amount of money'

Munzel says that some fundraising will be necessary to help pay for tools to build the trail, design a website with trail maps, create trail signage, and develop a long-term maintenance fund.

CORA has been in contact with FUEL Cincinnati about possible grants for a portion of the funding, he says.

"The funding needs are between $10,000 and $15,000," Munzel says. "So it's not a huge amount of money."

According to the motion, benefits of the trail include a positive return on investment – due to the use of CORA resources, the creation of a tourist destination, improved health and recreational activities, access to nature, and "the intangible benefits of Cincinnati being perceived as a progressive, creative city with diverse outdoor recreation possibilities".

Munzel agrees.

"The creation of a premiere mountain biking trail in the city will help promote the city's reputation as a bike-friendly city and provide an amenity to help retain and or seek residents who value healthy lifestyles and outdoor recreational opportunities such as mountain biking and hiking/trail running," he says.

Previous reading on BC:
Cincinnati may get mountain bike trails after all (8/17/10)
Mountain bikers expected to advocate before council committee (8/2/10)
Mount Washington resident questions mountain biking research (7/7/10)
Mountain biking not coming to Cincinnati parks (6/15/10)
New parking facilities required to provide bicycle parking (5/24/10)