WINDER - Members of a local mountain biking club have labored three years to build 11.3 miles of trails in Fort Yargo State Park using private donations. Without spending tax dollars, the 20-member Yargo Area Biking Association intends to complete and maintain 15 miles of trails throughout the park.
The volunteer effort has saved taxpayers about $80,000 in paid labor and materials, according to Artie Doughty, senior park ranger.
"Me and my brother started mountain biking and there just wasn't a lot of places to ride around here," said Steve Gordon, the association's president. "We asked the park if we could build onto the three-mile trail that was there."
Biking association members agreed to both build and maintain the trail. First, they went through the involved process of acquiring state approval.
"It is a very detailed process since all new trails have to be approved by three authorities - the park's engineering and construction team, (Department of Natural Resources) plant biologists and DNR archaeologists," said Eric Bentley, Fort Yargo State Park manager.
Bentley and Gordon walked the proposed 12 miles together for the park manager's approval. Then, botanists inspected the route for any of the
endangered plant species that Yargo houses, which caused the route to be moved twice. After an archeologist checked for artifacts, the workers were free to begin clearing a trail.
"We start by looking for lines through the woods that occur naturally, like deer trails," Gordon said.
Volunteers take down overhanging branches and use tools to rake and sweep away the top, loamy layer of loose soil.
"Sometimes we have to go through gullies, and we either incorporate them into the system or put in a pipe and push dirt on top of it," Gordon said.
Volunteers have constructed three 4-foot-wide bridges using telephone poles donated by Jackson EMC and Fort Yargo's tools and equipment, Gordon said.
Volunteers gather at Fort Yargo State Park nearly every weekday, weather permitting, to work. Three or four workers can extend the trail about one-half mile on a good afternoon, Gordon said.
The five-year-old, 20-member club sponsors two night rides in Fort Yargo at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, weather permitting, during which riders report seeing deer, squirrels, possums and raccoons. Seven mountain bike races are expected to bring bikers from as far away as Florida this year.
"We had one race called an Adventure Race where we swam, biked, ran and canoed," said Bryan Mouton, a biking association member. "The parking lot is full of mountain bikers every weekend. Fort Yargo is one of the best trails around. It's a good length, has a mixture of single and double tracks, some jumps and is a good trail for both beginners and experienced bikers. I've had some close calls with squirrels, though. They've run between my wheels several times."
The mountain bike trail has brought dollars into Fort Yargo State Park's coffers, allowing them to make needed repairs and upgrades to the lake banks, docks and other areas.
"It has been a great boost to the park economy in ParkPass sales and Friends Membership sales," Bentley said. "They are more than willing to work on the trails at any time we are having a problem and have done an excellent job of completing the nearly 12-mile loop around the park. They are very dedicated to what they do."
More information about volunteer opportunities, donations and the biking association is available online at www.yaba.homestead.com.