EDITOR’S NOTE: As of Tuesday afternoon, the bike trails at Cub Creek Park and the Yadkin River Greenway remained open to the public. The trail system of the W. Kerr Scott Reservoir is temporarily closed.
The newest addition to the trail system at Cub Creek Park in Wilkesboro is putting big smiles on the faces of mountain bikers, and it’s also putting big air under their bikes.
Multiple jumps and extensive wooden boardwalk features are the calling cards of the 1.5-mile Tornado Alley loop, designed and cut-in by Wilkes County native Jim Horton.
“This one is absolutely more fun” than the other trails Horton installed at Cub Creek, he said. “Basically, we built Cub Creek more as introductory trail, trying to get people into it. It’s convenient to town and great for families.”
Horton said the other trails at Cub Creek were built to be “tight and flowy, so if you’re an advanced rider, in order to ride them fast, you’ve got to have some bike-handling skills to rip through there and make it fun and exciting. But (Tornado Alley) gives you more—you’ve got the jumps and the wooden features. We’re going to add more features as time goes on.”
The boardwalk was necessary, he said, because the wet and soft county-owned bottomland south of Call Street upon which Tornado Alley is built. If a trail was built into the soil it would sink and be flooded, so Horton suggested the wooden features, and the Town of Wilkesboro was receptive to the idea.
Horton explained that the wooden sections are essentially little billboards for the town that pay for themselves. “People are always going to stop and get photos of these wooden features, and they’re going to put them on Facebook and Instagram and places like that. So, you’ll keep seeing that Cub Creek name popping up and it’s a visual that people will associate with Cub Creek.”
Most of the boardwalks have optional lines, Horton noted, so riders can take a slightly harder, narrower line or a jump line if the direction is reversed. “We wanted to make it a little more interesting, advanced and unique.”
Horton said that Tornado Alley boasts more wooden features than any trail within a few hundred miles of Wilkesboro. “I wouldn’t say (the wood is) super unique—there are some small wooden features at Rocky Knob in Boone, but not to this extent, and on some trails in Charlotte. It was really popularized and made famous on the north shore of Canada, because so much of their land is on delicate soil.”
The biggest expense of the project was those wood features, said Horton, because he said he spent more time on those sections than cutting the trail. He acknowledged the help of Wilkesboro town staff, calling them “great to work with, even though they were often getting pulled off the trail to other jobs.”
Horton, who also led the installation of 50-plus miles of single track around the W. Kerr Scott Reservoir, on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Tornado Alley was unique in his portfolio because of the sheer number of jumps. “I’ve also never done these wood features before, so it was cool dealing with a new medium. Riders want those technical challenges, because people get bored without them.”
Next up for Horton, pending approval from the Army Corps, is finishing the Headwaters Loop, a double black diamond (extremely steep) trail at Warrior Creek Campground in Boomer. “We started on it as volunteers but the trail was never finished. This RTP (the federally-funded Recreational Trails Program) grant will allow us to finish out the loop and also probably dial back the rock there on the trail.”
The grant will also fund a flow trail back across from the Pump Track Trail at Warrior Creek, near the Boomer-Ferguson school entrance, he said. “It’ll be a wider trail with jumps, mostly downhill—a fun, flowy trail about a mile long.”
Horton said his ultimate goal is to help turn Wilkesboro into a “real mountain biking destination.” He said the town can be the “Bentonville (Ark.) of North Carolina if we get enough trail. Asheville and Brevard have reputations but they really don’t have that much more trail than we do. It’s just getting on the map with it.”
He said mountain bikers often plan a week-long vacation around an area that is renowned for its trail system. “What you want is people coming in and staying for a week, not riding the same trail twice. People will then start moving here for the trails.” He added that three people he knows have moved here or bought second homes here just for the trails.
“It’s that ‘never stop moving’ mentality that keeps you young and healthy. I can’t go into my climbing gym right now (in Mooresville, where he resides), but I can go outside and ride trails. That satisfies something in me and gives you a better state of mind as well.”