Chattanooga Now The historical element behind several Chattanooga area mountain bike trails

Chattanooga Now The historical element behind several Chattanooga area mountain bike trails

Local MTB favorites mark history in more than one way

September 1st, 2018 by Mark Pace in Get Out - Departments

Mountain bike rider Mike Jones rides the one-lane road around Raccoon Mountain reservoir.

Before mountain bike trails were built in Chattanooga — and before mountain biking was a widespread activity — much of the land that now serves as recreationists' flowy terrain played crucial roles in the development of the city.

Here's a look at how some favorite MTB locales served the city prior, and how their transition fits into today's (cycling) landscape.

Enterprise South Nature Park

Nearly every aspect of this county-owned nature center has a historical tie.

The 1,300-acre wildlife park near Ooltewah sits on part of the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant. The government-owned factory was used for production and storage of TNT during World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. TNT production at the site ceased in 1977, but ammonium nitrate, fertilizer and related products were commercially produced there until 1986. In 1998, the plant was declared excess government property and modifications were made for long-term restoration.

As restoration efforts were underway, part of the property was used to create the 7,000-acre Enterprise South Industrial Park — which attracted the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant — and 1,300 acres were set aside as the now-popular nature park that features mountain biking, horseback riding, walking trails, a nature drive and paved multi-use trails.

The property offers three beginner-to-intermediate trails and one intermediate-to-advanced trail. The three beginner paths — the 2-mile Black Forest, 3-mile Log Rhythm and 4-mile TNT, a nod to the area's history — form a nearly 10-mile loop with fast, flowy trails without technical features.

Enterprise South also boasts the newest trail in the region, the Atlas. Though it is aptly named, it does not pay homage to the new Volkswagen vehicle of the same name that's built within a mile of the trail, according to VW officials, but rather to one of the powder suppliers used when the property was an Army ammunition plant. The trail gives riders a more advanced option. The approximately 6-mile singletrack is hillier, more technical and longer than the other trails on the property.

If riders keep an eye out while riding, old TNT bunkers still remain on the property and line several of the trails.

Raccoon Mountain

You can't say "Chattanooga" without "TVA." Not only is the hydroelectric utility one of the city's largest employers, it built the dams that ended the river's continuous encroachment and destruction, helping to turn those waters into the economic engine they are today.

Sitting at the mouth of Moccasin Bend, Raccoon Mountain represents another TVA triumph that has helped secure Chattanooga's rank among popular outdoor destinations. The area offers technical mountain biking with lots of rocks, roots and climbing, and is a favorite among seasoned riders.

A 2005 land management agreement between TVA, which owns the land, and Chattanooga's Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association led to the trail system, which has drawn national praise for both its public-private partnership and its singletrack. The partnership resulted in SORBA Chattanooga winning the National Partnership Award from American Trails in 2010 — and laid the foundation for future agreements SORBA made with other groups to build the growing number of trails, including those at Enterprise South, that have built the Scenic City into an MTB powerhouse.

Raccoon Mountain's more than 28 miles of trail sit over TVA's largest hydroelectric facility. The Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant provides power to more than a million homes and is an integral part in TVA's power production. The mountain's upper reservoir is the largest rockfill dam ever built by the federal agency. The reservoir contains approximately 107 billion gallons of water covering 528 acres of water surface.

Both SORBA and TVA consider the agreement that birthed the trails as the ideal private partnership with public payoff.