“We want to do this right,” says land trust director
The entrance to the Talking Rock Nature Preserve, a short distance from Hwy. 515 in Whitestone. The public is welcome to walk on the property but no trails are marked yet.
The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land, Inc. and the Ellijay Mountain Bike Association have teamed up to fund a professional concept design plan for a mountain bike trail at the Talking Rock Nature Preserve, 211 acres located in north Pickens.
The concept plan will be completed by International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA)’s Trail Solutions division, an international leader in single-track trail development with hundreds of successful projects around the globe.
Last year, the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land, (SETPL) announced they would develop a passive recreation park at the Talking Rock Nature Preserve. SETPL has established permanent conservation status for the land where they will support their mission of promoting “the quiet enjoyment of nature.” Current plans call for half of the property to be used as a disc golf course and the other half as mountain biking/hiking trails with a habitat throughout for bird watchers.
“[IMBA] is going to develop the conceptual plan, and in the coming months we will have schematics and a better idea about what the cost will be for the trail,” said SETPL Executive Director Bill Jones.
The IMBA concept plan has a price tag of $4,000, half of which was funded by SETPL and the other half by the Ellijay Mountain Bike Association, a chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
“This move demonstrates that we have community support for this project,” Jones said, “and I think a $4,000 commitment shows that we are keeping the momentum going.”
IMBA’s Southeast Associate Regional Director Terry Palmeri said when the Trail Solutions team visits Pickens in the spring, they will hold a stakeholder’s meeting to let any interested members of the public voice their concerns about the project.
“We can’t build from those conceptual plans they will create,” Palmeri said, “but we will know the mileage and alignment and we will be able to use those to help with fundraising efforts.”
Palmeri said funding could come from several sources including a federal Recreational Trails Grant, local funding, private donors or even the Ellijay Mountain Bike Association.
Current plans for the Talking Rock Nature Preserve mountain biking portion are to develop five miles of trails geared towards beginner/family-friendly usage, which, according to Palmeri, are in short supply in the region. She said even throughout Ellijay - the mountain biking capital of the state that has over 60 miles of mountain biking trails - many of them are “old school and difficult.”
“They are for the intermediate to advanced rider,” she said. “When I was president of EMBA I had trouble planning group rides with beginners because the trails were too hard, and I wanted to do new trail development for beginners.”
She said after five years of pushing for beginners alternatives, there is now a four-mile trail being developed in Blue Ridge, “then the Talking Rock park just came out of the blue last year. When we were made aware of it I called [SETPL] and said let’s put one here.”
Palmeri said the trail in Talking Rock will also appeal to hikers and trail runners.
“It’s going to be purpose-built for mountain biking, but it will be multi-use and sustainable,” she said. “There will be very little maintenance.”
When asked about people who may be skeptical about the project - especially in light of the floundering water park resort also proposed for Talking Rock - she said, “This isn’t a big idea. This will require small funding, probably from $100,000 to $125,000 to do it right, but there has to be community will. My job is to support it and build community around the project. We want the government, the chamber, all of those folks to be involved.”
In terms of tourism, the IMBA director said the preserve’s trails would be part of a larger system of trails in north Georgia that attract mountain bikers.
“There are seven million mountain bikers in the country,” she said. “This sport has really taken off in the last 10 years, especially among youth. I don’t necessarily see a five-mile track as being enough to specifically attract out-of-town mountain bikers, but there are trails in Ellijay and up further north and they will stop in Talking Rock if we make it something fun. They will stop and buy gas and get lunch in Pickens.”
Estimates are that mountain biking tourists spend, on average, $75 on a day trip or $120 on an overnight trip in the local economy.
She noted the IMBA conceptual plan will not be able to be implemented by your run-of-the-mill grader or contractor. It will require professional trail builders.
“Trails are a facility,” she said. “You can’t just have anyone put them in. There are a lot of things to take into consideration.”
Both Palmeri and Jones said the professional planning and installation is crucial to develop a system of trails the public will want to use.
“We want to do this right and not have trails that erode or are not usable or fun,” Jones said.
The director expects that SETPL’s commitment to build high-quality trails will make fundraising easier in the future.