On November 23, 2020, the Pisgah National Forest’s Grandfather Ranger District approved the Mortimer Trails Project. Planned in coordination with local partners, this project will increase the sustainability of the trail system and add 10 additional miles of mountain biking and hiking trails to the Wilson Creek Area in Caldwell and Avery Counties.
This decision is the culmination of years of community-driven collaboration and volunteer work. In 2015 the Grandfather Ranger District began a partnership with the community of local mountain bike users and volunteers to improve maintenance of Wilson Creek trails. Over the next 5 years an amazing amount of volunteer effort went into maintaining those trails. This volunteer work was made possible through a strong partnership with the
Northwest NC Mountain Bike Alliance, a chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA). Under this partnership, users saw restoration of some of their favorite area trails, including Woodruff Ridge and the “21 Jumps” section of the Wilson Ridge Trail.
Through these maintenance efforts, work began to formally assess needs for changes to the current trail systems, building off the needs identified in the 2013 Nantahala and Pisgah Trails Strategy. The strategy identified issues to address within the Mortimer area trails complex in order to provide sustainable trail experiences into the future. Specifically, the lack of connected mountain biking trails was highlighted as a need.
“The trails in Wilson Creek have long been loved by most who ride there for being the way they are,” said Paul Stahlschmidt, trail coordinator for the Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance. “But there is a need for some changes, and this plan will make them even better.”
In 2018, the Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance and the US Forest Service engaged stakeholders and users to gather feedback through a series of community meetings that focused on the vision of trail development in the area. From these visioning sessions three key goals emerged: (1) creating a more connected network of mountain bike trails to provide a better experience for users (2) relocating poorly aligned trail segments where there is resource damage to protect the health of the Wilson Creek Watershed, and (3) expanding trailhead access in sustainable locations.
In addition to the mountain bike community, a larger group of partners contributed to the project. These partners represent the local community of users, hiking groups, and watershed protection organizations working in the Wilson Creek area. Organizations include the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail, Trout Unlimited, and Wild South.
“The Mortimer Trails Project is a great example of how we can do more together,” said Lisa Jennings, Recreation and Trails Program Manager for the Grandfather District. “The partners put the hard work into making this project a reality. We are excited to bring more mountain bike trails and provide a better experience for users in this special piece of Pisgah.”
Work will begin this winter to construct new sections of trail on Yancey Ridge, Schoolhouse Ridge, and Jackson Knob Trails. This work is funded through a Santa Cruz Bicycles PayDirt Grant awarded to the Northwest NC Mountain Bike Alliance and a NC Recreation and Trails Program Grant awarded to the Grandfather District.
Additional work will take place on surrounding USFS roads through a partnership with Trout Unlimited.