Saturday, October 8, 2011

Georgia's Newest Gem

Trail building in Georgia is at an all time high as of late, thanks to IMBA, SORBA, generous Land Trusts, and countless hardworking volunteers. Barry Smith is one of those invaluable workers that has poured his life into mountain bike trails the past 15 years (maybe longer, that's just when I first met him). Yesterday was the grand opening of his latest baby, the Five Points Trail System of the Cloudland Canyon Connector Trail.

Tucked up in the northwest corner of Georgia, a stone's throw from the Tennessee border off State Route 157, you will find a small parking lot. The yellow gate sports a fancy sign stating your arrival at the Five Points trailhead. A changing area, sign pavilion and fancy wooden restroom are on the perimeter of the gravel lot that probably can only accommodate 15 cars at the most. There are envelopes and box for you to deposit the $5 parking fee. A larger parking lot is not far away off Ascalon Road, and the two are easily accessed via the trail as well.

Barry generously offered to be our tour guide for the day. The trails looked to be a complex labyrinth that would easily turn into a guessing game for us of where to go and how did we get here. With Barry as our guide, we were free to enjoy the ride and hopefully learn the different loops enough so that we could come back on our own without getting hopelessly lost.

We first met Barry in the mid 90s and was not only impressed with his kind and gentle spirit, but his incredible riding abilities. Nobody can descend like Barry, and when he's on, he's on fire. That passion for cycling is easily seen in the trail systems he has designed. The Tanasi trails were my first introduction to his insatiable appetite for trail building.

I'll never forget riding with him on the freshly cut trails of Tanasi as he talked about crawling around through the brush scouting out the place. That's dedication. That same dedication is quite evident at Five Points.
Thanks to the generosity and philanthropy of the Davenport family, the Lula Lake Land trust was developed and thousands of acres of land are now available for trail development. The trails are part new cut and part existing old trails from the 30's and 40's. The land was used for mining and acres of coal tailing's make for fun and thrilling mini ridge trails. There are 2 different tailing trails, one connects the two parking lots and the other runs off from the other direction of the Five Points parking lot. More like a roller coaster for mtn bikes, the tailing trails are classified as intermediate to advanced. While I didn't find them difficult, a beginner could easily be intimidated by the narrowness and uneasiness of being on the edge. Speed is key in this area, but you have to be alert lest you get a little too enthusiastic and go over a ridge.

All the trails lead to the Five Points intersection (not to be confused with the Five Points trail head pkg lot). It feels like there are a dozen trail heads at the intersection and you are bound to always come upon other riders here as everyone talks enthusiastically over the trail they just rode. I was pleasantly surprised upon exploring these trails. I did not get bored or feel like I was riding in circles. Each loop has it's own flavor. There are plenty of long sustained climbs and fun downhills. Some of the downhills are long and fast, some have switchbacks, some have jumps, but they all have good flow! There's swoop, and twist, and even the token rocky areas thrown in for good measure.

I didn't really have a favorite. Each trail was fun in its own way, each one made me smile! This is the perfect time of year to be on the trails. The air is crisp and the leaves are starting to change color. It could not have been a more perfect day! I could not help but notice what looked to me to be a number of Native American Trail (Pointer trees) Trees; trees that were modified by Native Americans to point the way to something of significance like a trail or water supply. The saplings were given a unique bend that pointed in the direction of interest. Whether or not these were indeed such trees, I did notice at least half a dozen of them at various points of the trail system.
Within the Five Points trail system we did about 20 miles with very little doubling back on ourselves. One can easily get in a good 2 hour ride without repeating any of the trails. We also added on some time by picking up the Cloudland Canyon Connector trail near the intersection of Tailings Run and Peace Can. This becomes Long Branch trail and goes about 7 miles to Nickajack Rd. Since we were running low on water, we only went out on Long Branch about 3 miles. What we saw was very nice, with plenty of climbing and descending. Next time we'll bring more supplies and go the distance. All in all we ended up with 27 miles in just over 3 hrs and loved every minute of it.Chattanooga was an easy 30 minute drive from the parking lot (you can literally get to Mojo Burrito in 20 min). That means you can make a fantastic weekend of riding up there by doing Five Points one day, Enterprise in the afternoon, and Raccoon Mtn the next day. The drive to Five Points from the metro Atlanta area took 1 hr 45 min. These trails are definitely worth the trip.

Yep, Georgia has a new hidden gem. Check it out soon! Don't forget to support IMBA SORBA that helps to make this all possible. And, if you see a nice guy riding a Merlin 4.0, stop and shake his hand. Thank you, Barry!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We love our backyard of trails at Lula Lake. There is nothing like living here and riding everyday!!!:)
Sean D