It’s early spring in Fayetteville, WV, and the lights are buzzing above the Fayetteville Town Park baseball diamond. The sound of a baseball snapping into a glove cuts through the parents’ chatter on the bleachers. Andrew Foran heads for the outskirts of the park on his trusty singlespeed as he tries to outrun the darkness in the woods. “I think we can do it,” Foran questions more than he says as he enters a maze of rhododendrons. Whatever daylight is left barely filters through the forest and the trail becomes a faint ghostly ribbon winding through the trees. Operating on what is most likely instinct and muscle memory, Foran plunges into darkness on Chicken Wire, one of Fayetteville’s oldest mountain bike trails.
After a series of steep drops and rock rolls, Chicken Wire emerges onto Fayette Station Rd. The sound of the New River rushing through the darkness. Above, silhouetted against the deep blue of dusk, is 1700 feet of vaulted steel. The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel span in the Western Hemisphere and arguably a work of functional art. The New River Gorge is the latest addition to the national park system, which leaves Foran wondering about the future of mountain biking in the gorge.
As Foran walks up Fayette Station Road in the dark, he recalls visiting the bridge as a teenager and the hijinx that would take place with friends. Having moved to Fayetteville shortly after those wonderful years, Foran owns and operates New river bikes. Located on Fayetteville’s main thoroughfare, the store has long been a hub for all things mountain biking in the gorge. When he’s not at the store, he’s often out on the trails with his wife, Abbie Newell. As the Fayette Trail Coalition President, Newell is working hard to ensure sustainable mountain biking in the New River Gorge region for years to come.
The New River Gorge is no stranger to outdoor enthusiasts. With world-class whitewater and some of the best rock climbing on the east coast, Fayetteville can get very crowded in the summer. Campsites fill with climbers looking to test themselves on the technical routes of the gorge, and busloads of whitewater rafters commute down Route 19. Area mountain bikers felt like a third wheel compared climbers and water sports enthusiasts. .
A few miles up the road from the designated national park property is a recently established equestrian area named Wolf Creek. Ideas for Wolf Creek trails began in 2016. With help from Jeremy Wimpey of Applied Trail Research, local runners and builders began mapping and reporting the new trail network while working on fundraising with the Fayette Trail Coalition. While some small sections of the trail had already been hand-dug by a dedicated group, county funding and approval didn’t begin until April 2020. “We were given the go-ahead the day Virginia- Occidentale went into custody,” Foran noted.
In no time, the trails at Wolf Creek began to take shape thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers. The aptly named “Corona” trail started things off, and soon there were 14 miles of proper singletrack ranging from fast flowing rock gardens to good old West Virginia rock gardens. Fayetteville’s population is just under three thousand people, so the close-knit town recognizes the importance and impact of recreation. Fayetteville will use one percent of its sales tax revenue for future trail and infrastructure projects, which is a huge boost.
“We were waiting for things to happen on the federal side, which was slow,” says Abbie Newell. “So the local support has been huge.” With a proposal to add an additional 30 miles of trail to the area already planned, Newell and the Fayette Trail Coalition are banking on funding to help them carry out future projects. In addition to the Wolf Creek additions, the FTC is also planning a brand new trail system called Needle Eye. Although only a mile from Wolf Creek, Needle Eye is located in the town of Oak Hill, but a dirt road connects the two driving areas.
There are plans for more singletrack, a pump track and a skills area in the city park, as well as renovations to the existing skatepark. Across the New River from Fayetteville, an equestrian area known as Arrowhead was established in 2011 on park property. Home to just over 13 miles of singletrack, Arrowhead offers multiple loop options from green trail to black diamond. The trails built by the local Boy Scouts of America Order of the Arrow are one of the most significant youth service projects carried out on the national park property.
It wasn’t until 2010 that national parks began allowing mountain bikes on park property, and the number of suitable singletrack accommodations for bikes is in the single digits. The New River Gorge is a bit of an anomaly, and rightly so. Originally recognized as a national river, The New was rooted in recreation long before it became a feather in a politician’s cap. Local mountain bikers like Foran and Newell are eagerly awaiting what lies ahead. Knowing that policy takes precedence over planning, Newell is confident that with or without federal funding, dedicated organizations will move forward with proposed trail additions. The Town of Oak Hill is committed to the trails at the Needle Eye location and, if needed, groups will seek out private donors.
Fayetteville has a flavor in itself. It feels like a mountain town, dependent on recreation to keep the local economy moving in many ways. Without the big spend that ski resorts see, every visitor to the region has an impact. The people of Fayetteville are well aware of the growth of mountain biking in recent years and the impact that mountain biking can have on the local economy. With an expanding network of trails and other world-class outdoor recreation, the future of mountain biking in Fayetteville, WV looks bright, accented with giant ferns and rock gardens.