By Gary Gray
SORBA Tri-Cities recently celebrated 20 years of service, and the blossoming mountain biking phenomenon they strongly support means a likely expansion of trails and tourism.
“I think mountain biking is exploding, and Johnson City sees that,” SORBA Tri-Cities President Jerry Greer told The News & Neighbor. “It’s a perfect storm. I also see the city’s rebranding meshing well with what we’re doing.
“My involvement came 20 years ago when I moved here from Colorado. It was the Northeast Tennessee Mountain Bike Association at the time. Originally, we basically had the goal of opening up trail systems in the national forest areas, and 20 years later it’s finally happening.”
Johnson City Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Brenda Whitson told The News & Neighbor the Tweetsie Trail has proven to be a huge success and the opening of Tannery Knobs will give mountain bikers yet another asset, including stunning views of Johnson City.
“Investments in outdoor recreation on public lands earn compounding returns in the form of healthier communities, healthier economies and healthier people,” Whitson said. “Outdoor recreation powers a vast economic benefit to communities. Most of the time, the investments are through enhancement of our natural assets.”
The Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association is the largest nonprofit mountain biking organization in the Southeast. Members work with land managers in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee to create trails and trail systems for mountain bikers and other users to enjoy.
Greer said the group partners with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which now represents over 4,000 members who help steward miles of improved trails in a seven-state area. Volunteers donate thousands of hours each year to advocate for trail access, and to build and maintain trails.
The best riding in the Southeast is found on trails maintained by SORBA volunteers, Greer said. The group’s members love singletrack, rocks, roots and logs, and employ IMBA’s trail-building practices to ensure that our trails are sustainable and challenging, he added.
“Right now, we’re working on trails on Holston Mountain and on Buffalo Mountain,” he said. “We will be working with the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, and we’re looking at national forest property. NetRep will represent all the user groups, including mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers. Even the horsemen will be involved in the conversation. You would be able to do a 25-mile ride that includes the Pinnacle Trail (Unicoi). We hope to be putting up signs within 30 days. All we have left is the final public comment period. The National Forest Service will vote on it following that, and it looks good.”
SORBA Tri-Cities continues to display exceptional leadership, said Kayla Carter, NetRep’s outdoor development manager.
“They organize beginner rides to engage new members and seasoned mountain bikers, but also organize work days for volunteers to contribute to the stewardship side of this recreation activity,” Carter said. “They are a great partner in our outdoor development efforts. We are a benefactor of their hard work in that they are tirelessly facilitating opportunities for community development.
“We are committed to supporting SORBA Tri-Cities in any way that we can. We believe in the mission and witness the positive impact the club makes in the community. We hope to see the club continue to build and maintain trails as well as relationships.”
Greer also said the manner in which Johnson City officials, businesses and community members embraced mountain biking “really came as a surprise to us.”
“Grant Summers came to us about scenarios in which we could build a mountain bike park at Tannery Knobs,” he said. “The next thing we knew, we had a task force. This was at the same time we were doing the trails at Winged Deer Park.”
Trail Solutions currently is working with SORBA on a concept plan to extend trails on Johnson City’s 725-acre Buffalo Mountain Park. Funding came when city commissioners voted to tack additional money onto the second phase of Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park construction costs.
“There may be eight miles of hiking trails there, and that’s all,” Greer said about the city park. “I’d say 500 acres has no trails. The city is interested in expanding, and my idea would be to build 25 miles of trails.”
Buffalo Mountain Park is a natural resource area obtained in a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service in 1994. The park is located on Buffalo Mountain’s north slope and consists of steep topography and densely forested land. The park functions as a nature preserve primarily for hiking, picnicking, and nature programs.
SORBA also built all the trails at Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport, as well as trail systems at Bristol Tennessee’s Sugar Hollow Park and Kingsport’s Bays Mountain Park. The group also sponsors both the Science Hill High School and Washington County Schools mountain biking teams, which Greer called, “our future.”
“Our goal is to keep this going,” he said.