Like a lot of people locked down during Missouri’s COVID-19 shutdown, Wade Gaylord couldn’t wait to get outside. Once restrictions lifted, he loaded up his bike and hit the trail. “I was fortunate to buy my bike off Craigslist just before I got laid off from my construction job,” says the Hillsboro resident while riding the Zombie Trail in St. Louis County. “This is all I do now.”
Wade is just one newcomer to mountain biking who emerged from the shutdown to discover Missouri is home to hundreds of miles of sweet singletrack trail.
Eric Pirtle, a mountain bike racer and rep for Giant bicycles says he saw the sport really take off in the spring. “One of the stores I work with had a big sale in March,” he says. “I saw parents come in and buy bikes for everyone in the family.”
The trend is fueled by Missouri’s status as a destination for trail riders of every level. It’s not just the state’s cities that play host to off-road cyclists. Increasingly, small towns are discovering that mountain biking is one form of tourism that can with-stand even a pandemic.
“I didn’t know it was going to draw the number of people that it has,” Warsaw Mayor Eddie Simons says of the town’s Truman Lake Mountain Bike Park. “You can come down here and it’s not unusual to see five or six license plates from different states. It’s benefited everyone.”
From the Forest City Trail in St. James to the 24 miles of the Wolf Creek Trail near Poplar Bluff, mountain bikers are discovering not only the trails they crave but the small towns that foster them. Here’s a look at some of what awaits off-road cyclists in Missouri.
SHEPHERD MOUNTAIN BIKE PARK
Looming above Ironton is Shepherd Mountain, which towers 600 feet above the former mining town. Soon it will be home to one of Missouri’s most ambitious mountain bike projects.
Set for a spring 2021 opening, Shepherd Mountain Bike Park has cyclists drooling and tourism outlets anticipating a surge in business.
That’s because it will offer something previously lacking in Missouri — gravity-fed downhill excitement. One section of the expert level downhill trail is already complete. It features a near vertical 20-foot cedar plank drop in, jumps from granite boulders and a wooden ramp off an incline that will launch the intrepid down the mountain.
There’s another black-diamond line that will roll off a 25-foot ledge down a banked spiral — with no guardrails. Green (beginner) and blue (intermediate) trails will cater to those not yet ready for the gnarly stuff.
And that’s just Phase 1. Down the road, city officials say 10 to 15 more miles of trails “for people less inclined to ride down the mountain at 50 mph” will be added, along with camping, access to Shepherd Mountain Lake, a skills park for kids and paths so riders can pedal to area attractions.
More information can be found at www.visitarcadiavalley.info/mtbpark
STATE PARK TRAILS
When Mike Sutherland took over as director of Missouri State Parks, he set a goal for himself. A longtime mountain bike rider, he wants to ride every state park trail. “I’m kind of on my way to doing that but I still have a long way to go,” he says.
Missouri’s State Parks have embraced mountain biking with quality trails at dozens of parks and at least one state historic site. From Crowder and Thousand Hills state parks in the north to Stockton and Table Rock state parks in the south, there are trails for beginners and for those with advanced skills.
Stockton, for example, features an easy flowy trail with few climbs. That contrasts with Table Rock State Park where mountain bikers will need every inch of travel and all their gears to get around the rocky trails.
“Mountain bike trails have always been something available in Missouri State Parks,” the director says. “But in the next few years you will see more emphasis on mountain biking because not only are many of the superintendents enthusiastic about doing that, but the demand is there.”
Trails that were once only open to hikers may see their designations change to multi-use where appropriate. And trails that have been around for years will get facelifts using modern, sustainable trail-building techniques. It’s all about making state parks more accessible to more people.
To find state park trails visit www.mostateparks.com
On a sultry summer Sunday a dozen pint-sized riders do laps around the parking lot at the Truman Lake Mountain Bike Park. Members of Benton County’s National Inter-scholastic Cycling Association team, they are itching to get on the trail. But first, they go through a series of drills in a grass field that offers soft landings for the inevitable crashes.
Finally, they are deemed ready for the trail. A 4-mile loop has been marked in the woods. It’s not easy, but everyone completes the distance.
This year was supposed to be the inaugural season for Missouri’s NICA teams, but COVID-19 put a stop to races. The Benton County team is one of 18 NICA groups organized in Missouri since 2018. They join more than 18,500 kids currently racing mountain bikes on more than 1,000 teams in 25 states.
NICA’s goal is to promote mountain biking for students in grades 6–12 while hosting races that emphasize participation and well-being over competition. And that’s exactly what organizers are seeing: Self-esteem increases as the teams grow in size and riders learn new skills.
NICA teams are independent of schools and can host cyclists from multiple schools and home schools.
For more information visit www.missourimtb.org
RIDE THE OZARK TRAIL
Of all the places to ride off-road in Missouri, none compare in length and solitude to the Ozark Trail. According to the Ozark Trail Association, more than 300 miles of the trail is open to mountain bikes depending on which agency manages the trail section.
Mountain biking begins at the trailhead near Bass Resort and extends unbroken 182 miles to the Roger Pryor Pioneer Backcountry which is off limits to fat tires. Bikes are again welcome south of Highway 60 to the Eleven Point section and on the Wappapello, Victory and Marble Creek sections.
As if that wasn’t enough trail, the OT connects to the Berryman Trail, a marathon-distance loop, and the 12-mile Council Bluff Lake loop. With so many miles of trail, the OT is a favorite for bike campers. The trail is open to camping for cyclists willing to haul gear and provisions along for the ride.
For more Ozark Trail information visit www.ozarktrail.com
TWO RIVERS MBP
Two Rivers Mountain Bike Park was the first of its kind in Missouri when it opened in 2013. A place dedicated to mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers, the park was a gift from Matt O’Reilly, who turned a 400-acre farm near Nixa into a premier cycling destination.
The park features 14 miles of trail that is challenging mostly due to its climbs. Once at the top, cyclists can choose to return on the trail, or opt for the downhill runs, which include manmade berms, walls, ladders and natural features perfect for adrenaline junkies. There’s an area with wooden features designed to build skills for the downhill runs and a place for repairs.
The park provides the stage for the annual Singletrack Mind Festival held in September. The event features entertainment, challenges and races for runners and cyclists while bringing in funds for other projects under the auspices of Trailspring, an organization devoted to connecting people to the outdoors in the Ozarks.
You can learn more about Two Rivers at www.trailspring.org/two-rivers