The first competitive youth mountain biking team in Wilkes County is primed for a big inaugural season this year—making an impact on minds and bodies of its members and also the local economy.
The WilCo Wolves, with six team members (three boys and three girls), is scheduled to compete in five N.C. Interscholastic Cycling League (NCICL) events this spring. These include a local race April 18-19 on the Dark Mountain Trails at W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir.
Wolves Head Coach Ben Harbour said the team was formed to mold strong character and minds and build strong bodies in student-athletes through cycling routines. “All of that is encouraged through the sport of mountain biking. It’s an awesome avenue,” said Harbour.
It’s the newest team in the NCICL, formed in 2015 as one of 31 leagues in the larger National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). Established in 2009, the NICA includes over 22,500 youth cyclists and 11,500 licensed coaches across the nation.
NICA teams can consist of middle- and high-school-age students in public, private or home schools. Wolves team members include students from public, private and home schools. Harbour’s son, Braden, is a member.
Harbour said that any given NCICL event attracts about 1,500 people and 500 riders. He said representatives of several teams told him they want to come to Wilkes and ride all the trails here before the Dark Mountain race weekend, which is April 18-19.
The Dark Mountain race is going to be “a big draw, and there’s a lot of stuff to offer here in Wilkes for the riders and their families. It’ll be good to see.”
Harbour said he recently talked with Thomas Salley, president of the Wilkesboro Tourism Development Association, about the impact of the April 18-19 weekend.
Harbour told Salley that a lot of participating families camp on race weekends, but all of the campsites at W. Kerr Scott Reservoir’s Warrior Creek and Bandit’s Roost campgrounds were booked for the April 18-19 weekend by November.
Harbour said Salley told him Wilkesboro officials are considering opening the SewerFest camping areas on the Wilkesboro Wastewater Treatment Plant property for that race weekend to accommodate NCICL cyclists and their families. The SewerFest campsites normally open about that same time in April for MerleFest, which this year is April 23-26.
Harbour said he’s confident the NCICL event at the Dark Mountain trails will make a significant economic impact on Wilkes at a time when interest in building the outdoor economy locally is strong.
He said the NICA conducts an economic impact study after each race. “I’m working to get those (study) details over the past couple of years and share them with Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro officials to show them this is the impact we’re making.”
The Dark Mountain race is the fourth of five events on the 2020 NCICL schedule. It starts March 7-8 at the Brown’s Creek Nature Park in Elizabethtown near the coast. The site of the March 21-22 race is yet to be determined. On April 4-5, the race is at Quaker Lake Camp in the Randolph County community of Climax.
The state championship race is slated for May 2-3 at Farris Memorial Park in Mayodan.
A family sport
Harbour grew up cycling as a kid in Morganton and raced mountain and road bikes in high school and college. At age 15, he started working as a mechanic at the Upper Pass bike shop in Morganton.
He and his wife, Leslie, live in North Wilkesboro and have four children ranging in age from 8 to 17. He works at home for Wells Fargo bank as a team lead for the OS Patch Engineering team.
The entire Harbour family rides bikes, and last year Braden raced in the NCICL as an independent with teams from Caldwell and Forsyth counties. Braden finished fifth overall in the beginner eighth-grade division.
Harbour said he was mentored last year by other coaches and learned how to start a team in Wilkes. Parents of Wolves riders are encouraged to be coaches and ride with their children on the trails. “It turns into a family atmosphere, which is pretty cool.”
Girl riders are encouraged to join teams by the NICA, and every race has a girls-only clinic called GRiT (Girls Riding Together), noted Harbour. “All the female athletes can go out and learn skills without the testosterone of males in the way,” he said. “They get to ride the trails and see the trail features before the males, so it’s not a stressful situation.”
Harbour praised the efforts of the Northwest N.C. Mountain Bike Alliance, which serves Wilkes, Watauga, Caldwell, Catawba and Burke counties and works with the Brushy Mountain Cyclists Club to build and maintain the Wilkes trails.
“We are blessed in Wilkes County with 40-plus miles of awesome trail. But trails aren’t built overnight,” he noted.
Harbour said his goal this year is to get more local youth cycling. “We want to get a good base built, then we want it to go as far as it can go. Eventually we want schools to spin off with their own teams. We’re just riding and teaching and instructing the students.”
The WilCo Wolves is working to raise $2,000 to fund team apparel, tools, portable seating, folding tables, coolers, food and registration costs. Contributions can be made at https://youth-rider-development-tsf.everydayhero.com/us/wilkes-county-wilco-wolves-composite-cycling-team.
The team’s Instagram story can be followed at https://www.instagram.com/wilcowolves.
Student bikers or adult coaches can learn more about getting involved with the WilCo Wolves program by emailing Harbour at email@example.com.