Building a Tennessee Tunnel 

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Getting a run down of the trail plans before building.

Fifteen minutes ago Brian Hann was overlooking our work—still wearing a polo, after his day job working for Dewhirst Properties, he relaxed with beer in hand. I had just returned, hoping he wouldn’t notice the excavator that had slipped a track. It rested on churned red Tennessee clay like a beached whale. Brian was now hunched over the track, his polo had darkened from staggering heat and his hands were smothered in grease. This is how the trail projects worked in Knoxville, Tennessee. Like his work on construction projects, someone was always one step ahead, replacing machines that had been broken or planning new trail that could be built immediately after projects were finished.
Keep you eye out for the finished product of the Wood Property…

Keep you eye out for the finished product of the Wood Property…

In March, Vermont’s IdeRide trail crew created a trail that would attract a small group of gravity-seeking riders to Knoxville’s Sharp’s Ridge Park. The ridge is home to various mountain bike trails and pierces the northern horizon only four miles from downtown. In July, working for IdeRide, we pointed south to expand Knoxville’s exploding mountain bike scene, and do some testing of our own. Our goal was adding another gravity trail to a new area on the trail system. Located just south of Knoxville, with a bottomless pit of red clay, we began construction on the Wood Property. The property, with support from the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club (AMBC) and Knoxville’s Legacy Parks, is beginning to take shape as a gravity fed trail destination.

Peeking through the tunnel at the not so distant city of Knoxville from Sharp’s.

Peeking through the tunnel at the not so distant city of Knoxville from Sharp’s.

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Brian Hann, along with Matt Kellogg—another bike enthusiast whose day job revolved around working construction for local developer Dewhirst Properties, and Randy Connor a local with the urge to build trail, are the ringleaders behind the expansive plans to increase mountain bike accessibility in Knoxville. Their efforts, paired with the local IMBA chapter, AMBC, are grooming the way to increase local access. With miles of trail already linking together vine laden green space in the city, AMBC’s goal is changing the idea of what mountain biking should offer within 10 miles of a major city.

AMBC’s trail limo, usually under a pig pile of bikes.

AMBC’s trail limo, usually under a pig pile of bikes.

Entering Sharp’s bottom banks.

Entering Sharp’s bottom banks.

“More than once our shit was stolen by a couple of hillbillies,” Brian recalled, explaining some of the setbacks that happened during the first building projects. “For a while we had to fight,” he continued. As a new type of two-wheeled junkie emerged, the city began providing more support to the club. The backing helped them win multiple grants for trail projects. With the completion of the Sharps Ridge trails, AMBC launched the Downtown Downhill campaign that turned heads putting Knoxville on the board for urban access to mountain biking. After much anticipation they won the Bell Built grant that would provide $100,000 towards a new trail at the planned Wood Property.

What’s different about the riding in Knoxville to other places in the nation is the productivity coming from a group of people familiar with the construction business. Although there are many people invested in AMBC, Kellog, Hann and Connor pair construction based knowledge with revere for mountain bikes. This fusion of skill set and love creates trail design that is planned and executed with the diligence of a construction job. With the support of Dewhirst Properties, equipment is constantly on hand to increase efficiency and safety. This approach ensures a network that hasn’t been cut short from material or builders.

Shaggy, AMBC member and trail guru that showed us Knoxville's goods.

Shaggy, AMBC member and trail guru that showed us Knoxville’s goods.

From cross-country style paths pouring upon themselves like twisted soft serve ice cream, to the set of rhythm jumps on Sharp’s Ridge, it was obvious the riding was inspired by the diverse group of bicycle inspired individuals that make up AMBC. Wednesday nights people of all abilities congregate at Sharp’s Ridge to ride xc, push DH rigs and even session the jump line on bmx bikes. AMBC is invested in creating a system that links various plots of urban wilderness to strengthen the health of the area by providing accessibility to stress free natural environments.

Late one evening at Sharp’s Ridge before heading back to Vermont, we bumped into Hann and Kellogg. They were finishing their trail and urban-laced adventure with a quick stop at the Public House—a local favorite for cyclists. They encouraged us to join before riding away with a string of other Knoxville riders. Like the variables involved with running a construction job, AMBC has been able to manage their network and building projects similarly. In doing so, the cycling community continues expanding and supporting many of the areas drive to weave the natural areas into an urban atmosphere.

Ryan McEvoy, Ideride builder, pulling up the caboose on Sharp's Ridge.

Ryan McEvoy, Ideride builder, pulling up the caboose on Sharp’s Ridge.

Knoxville is an unquestionable stop for riders looking to escape the Northeast’s colder months. As the completion of the Wood Property is scheduled for the fall, a weekend of riding both cross-country and gravity inspired trail would graze the surface of Knoxville’s offerings. Late fall is the best time to enjoy the city’s offerings, and if your interested in learning more about the community check out their mountain bike festival on the 7th and 8th of November. For more information contact AMBC or check out any of the area’s bicycle shops, including Harper’s Bike Shop and Tennessee Valley Bikes.

1 Comment

  • Dave says:

    We had some work in the area a couple of years back and was able to ride some of the trails down there. A lot of fun and a good vibe. Wed night rides are the best time to meet the locals at Ijams nature center. A local food truck will usually be there post ride to pick up some grub and chat with the locals.

    Would be worth a visit

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