We just wanted one more mile than we had yesterday.
One hundred miles of singletrack.
That was the goal that the local chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association set out to accomplish when it split off from the Chattanooga Bicycle Club in 2003. SORBA's Singletrack Mind Initiative sought to increase the then-existing 7 miles of trails to a total of 100 miles within 10 miles of Chattanooga in about 10 years.
It was a lofty goal, to be sure — and one that made inroads into Chattanooga's future as an outdoor destination.
"We wanted a little more. We had Booker T. [Washington State Park], but that was only four miles then," says former SORBA Chattanooga President Trey Commander. "Right before things took off, one member, Greg Laudeman — an economic development person, kind of an idea guy and mountain bike rider — he came up with the Singletrack Mind Initiative. He had had contacts and was the guy I would credit with getting us in with [Tennessee Valley Authority] for Raccoon Mountain."
The volunteer group gained momentum as new projects came on board. Fifteen years later, the area has 170 miles of singletrack — 121 of which were either constructed and maintained by SORBA or which the club assisted in building. There are trails on Lookout Mountain, in the eastern part of the county, atop Raccoon Mountain, along the Tennessee River near downtown Chattanooga.
That momentum, in part, helped lead to other trail networks and paved the way for the Chattanooga Connector Trail that links many of them together.
"Mountain biking kind of came out of the fringe and has become a mainstay adventure sport," says current club Vice President Craig Lawson. "With our natural resources, it was a natural process that the community would embrace it. With it, land managers, they've seen the value."
SORBA Chattanooga has had its hand in the development of just about every mountain biking trail development in the area. The only exceptions are private developments like the Moonshine Trail operated by Lula Lake Land Trust and trail systems maintained in the Collegedale area by Southern Adventist University.
Here are 5 of our SORBA favorites:
1. Raccoon Mountain
Perhaps the best example of public/private partnership in the local mountain biking scene, this 30-mile trail network is also the most renowned trail system in the area. It was featured in Bike Magazine and resulted in the SORBA Chattanooga chapter winning the National Partnership Award from American Trails in 2010 due to the club's work with the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the land.
Built around the reservoir for TVA's pumped-storage plant, the technical trail system features advanced routes with lots of climbing, rocks, roots and steep grades.
2. 5 Points
This trail system on Lookout Mountain in Georgia is one of the area's newest. Its 20 miles of singletrack opened in 2011 on an old coal mine that closed in the early- to mid-1900s.
There are nearly a dozen loops with climbing, some technical aspects, and intersections with trails branching in all directions that allow for a high number of route options. The system is considered one of the most diverse in the area with trails truly for all abilities.
The 14-mile multi-use Cloudland Connector Trail runs through 5 Points, connecting the trail system to Lula Lake Land Trust, the Tennessee Riverwalk, Cloudland Canyon, and more.
3. Stringer's Ridge
Stringer's Ridge provides a short, punchy course across the river from downtown Chattanooga on the North Shore. The 4 miles that are open to mountain biking feature climbing, flowy singletrack and an overlook of the city. The short trails and lack of technical elements keep this system from stacking up with some other local trail options, but its location and punchy trails make it a local hotspot for riders.
The system started as an unofficial local favorite with makeshift trails locals rode during the week. Developers were in the works to build hundreds of condos on the ridge in 2007, but public outcry resulted in an agreement between developers and local groups to protect what became a 92-acre park. The Trust for Public Land purchased part of the property, and a landowner, Jimmy Hudson, agreed to donate an adjacent 55 acres to the conservation effort. Local resident Jim Johnson donated $50,000 to help SORBA build trails. Project partner the Tennessee River Gorge Trust holds a conservation easement on the property in perpetuity.
4. Enterprise South Nature Park
This county-operated park is one of the most popular places to ride in the area. The site sits on 2,800 acres of a former U.S. Army ammunition plant that was transformed into a nature center in the eastern part of the county. The property boasts horse trails, hiking trails and mountain biking trails (all separate).
The more than 16 miles of singletrack offer beginner to advanced options, with most on the easier side for those who regularly ride. Three of the trails form an inner loop more than 10 miles long.
The newest trail, Atlas, is hillier and more technical. It is the longest individual trail in the park at 5.5 miles. It was named after one of the powder suppliers used by the Army.
SORBA members have dedicated thousands of hours to construction and maintenance of the park's trails.
5. Booker T. Washington
This beginner-friendly trail system is one of the oldest in the area. Taking riders through the state park along the Tennessee River, it has three loops for a total of 7.3 miles of singletrack.
The trail runs along the water in parts and allows for a quick dip on a hot day. It has less elevation gain and is a place where those new to the sport can learn to ride. There aren't many technical aspects with the exception of roots that can be tricky to maneuver.
When SORBA entered an agreement with the park to improve the long-neglected trails at the club's expense, members added an additional 4 miles of trail and created two new loops — and a new track for the Scenic City's future.