The dirt trails that ring Walker Park in East Athens aren’t very old, but they already hold a good bit of history.
The trails were built by members of the Athens chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association and represent the culmination of years of work to create an official place to host the sport. While there may be “unofficial” dirt trails around Clarke County, the safest place to ride is marked trails made for the sport. Walker Park—formerly known as Trail Creek Park until it was renamed for the late community activist Virginia Walker—provides that outlet.
“[Walker Park] is a relatively new thing on the scene, and it’s awesome in that it opens up the sport to your average person who is able to live close enough to get their bike to the park and ride it there, or who are fortunate to be able to load up their bike on the car and get it there. It has made our sport more accessible,” says Seth Younger, president of the Athens chapter of SORBA.
Walker Park opened in 2006, but the natural-surface trails were completed about five years ago. “People love it, and they come from out of town to ride the trails because they are so unique,” Younger says. “But we’ve reached the point where [Walker Park] is done. So, what’s next?”
By “done,” Younger is referring to the status of the trails—after years of hard labor by SORBA members, the park now has six marked paths for bikes. SORBA maintains the trails through a memorandum of understanding with Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services, which maintains signs and larger infrastructure, such as bridges. The partnership was the fulfillment of an unwritten promise to the Athens area off-road biking community that for years had nowhere official to ride.
When Walker Park first opened as Trail Creek Park in 2006, the off-road biking community saw the woods surrounding the sports fields and found a solution. “We looked at a map and said, ‘We can put trails in the spaces around the edges.’ And they did,” says Younger. “And that’s the sort of thing we hope we can do again.”
Alex Bond, administrator for the Nature Division of Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services, says they are looking at other county properties that could work for another natural-surface trail network. Sandy Creek Park is one such area identified as a possibility; another is the Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility on the Eastside.
Local off-road bikers have been eyeing the Cedar Creek property for years, but it has been difficult to cut through the layers of government to get something worked out. Even Bond acknowledged he would also have to work with the Public Utilities Department for approval.
“The property is very large, and we don’t know what potential could be there,” says Bond. “And, just like any of these [facilities], we have to keep up with materials and operations. It’s not as simple as cutting in a trail or putting in a parking lot.”
Ideally, says Younger, SORBA and the county could work out a memorandum of understanding similar to what’s in place at Walker Park. A landscape architecture student created a conceptual plan for the property a couple of years ago, and SORBA members could plan trails with future amenities in mind.
“But really, any property with enough space to build trails or connected to the Greenway network would be a win for us, even if it happened one mile at a time,” says Younger. “The Greenway network, and the connectivity it provides, is awesome for all disciplines of cycling, especially more disadvantaged groups. The Greenway, when it’s [fully] built, is going to be great.”
Until the home for the next set of trails is set, though, SORBA members are out maintaining the trails that already exist. Locals looking for a day out of the house—whether it’s to learn more about off-road trails or to spend some time volunteering to maintain them—can join SORBA for weekly “trail love” events. Pre-registration is required in order to maintain social distancing (visit sorbaathens.org/events for details).
SORBA is also building a “pump track” at Walker Park, which is a small track where riders can practice skills on small hills and turns. Between that and the constant needs for trail maintenance, Younger says, there are a lot of ways anyone interested in off-road biking can plug in. “Because of COVID, we’ve not had a lot of volunteer days,” Younger adds. “So, we’ve started doing weekly events, because there’s a 10-person limit, and there’s a lot of little stuff to do.”
Equipment: The biggest hurdle to the sport is the bike. Get the lightest one you can afford, says Seth Younger, president of the Athens chapter of SORBA. That and a helmet, and you’re good to go.
Location: Only ride on trails marked for off-road bicycling. While there are other natural-surface trails around Athens, trails that are marked are designed and maintained for bicycles. SORBA does not recommend riding on unmarked trails.
More info: Visit sorbaathens.org for maps and other resources.
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