Posted on

A future epic ride

A future epic ride
A future epic ride
The rock formation above is one of the many obstacles the trail building crew will look to utlize during planning.

The time for a facelift within the trail system at one of the area’s favorite state park destinations has come. Not only a facelift, but O’Bannon Woods State Park will tap into a new community of adventure seekers: mountain bikers.
In May, Gov. Mitch Daniels awarded trail grants to 20 different projects across Indiana. The statewide mountain bike trail development was awarded $250,000, intended for three projects, including O’Bannon Woods. The plan is to convert a 25-mile stretch of the existing adventure hiking trail into a rugged back country trail for hikers and mountain bikers.
‘We are all excited about what’s going to happen here,’ said Bob Sawtelle, property manager of the state park. ‘The trail system is going to be a better experience for all trail users, with better organization, maps and access.’
Three years ago, Alex Stewart, a professional trail builder, was invited to visit O’Bannon Woods State Park and was in instant awe. He saw the endless possibilities his wild imagination could create with a more efficient trail system within O’Bannon Woods. Also, as the Hoosier Mountain Biking Association’s trail development director, Stewart was one of the leaders of the popular Brown County State Park mountain bike and hiking system in Nashville.
‘Mainly because many have seen what type of attraction Brown County has brought the central part of the state,’ Stewart said of his invitation to visit Harrison County. ‘They saw the work we did in Versailles (State Park) and Brown County. The reaction has been very positive with trails. The trails increased gate (admissions), and added value to the park as a whole.’
Sawtelle said the initial trail system within Harrison-Crawford State Forest was constructed in the 1930s. They were later reconstructed in the 1970s and haven’t been significantly rerouted since.
‘This is the right time,’ Sawtelle said. ‘The goal is to enhance options for all user groups.’
Within the trail system, O’Bannon Woods has become a regional destination for horseback riders and adventure hikers. Sawtelle and Stewart said the feedback from all has been positive about reworking trails and adding mountain bikes to the adventure trail system.
Yet the current system has some flaws. One of the main issues is that the adventure hiking trail and the horse trail intersect many times.
‘We want to be able to have separation,’ Stewart said. ‘Currently, there are junctions at every half mile where horses and hikers cross one another. What we want to do is build long, uninterrupted trails for both.’
Stewart said the horse-goers come first in his mind because of the history within the park with bridle trails. Communication will no doubt be key.
One common area the groups depend on is volunteers. Sawtelle said the 200 miles of trail and roads are still in use because of the dedicated hours volunteers put in on the trails.
Presently, Stewart is doing a lot of scouting along the current adventure trail. Using clinometers, GPS devices and markers, he is going one step at a time through the woods to ensure the most durable trail system can be built. When the physical trail work takes place, many volunteers will be utilized. On a good ‘trail day’ event, 20 to 30 people will offer their services.
The Hoosier Mountain Biking Association and Stewart are in the early stages of planning but last summer they began tapping into O’Bannon Woods. The first project includes re-routing and improving the existing Rocky Ridge Trail. By the end of the summer, the goal is to complete the three to four miles of the trail for bikers and hikers.
Hence the name, Rocky Ridge will be a trail design for more intermediate to advanced mountain bikers but will give a taste of the future.
Stewart said the approach to improving the adventure trail is to design something for everyone. Trailheads begin by the campground near the park’s fire tower and will start with a loop intended for beginners. Then, as the trail system moves farther out, it will gradually become more for the advanced rider.
The current grant money is expected to fund the initial six to eight miles of the adventure trail, along with a majority of planning. The final product will be in the 20-to 30-mile range.
It is anticipated that the entire project may take five to 10 years to fully complete. Because of the precise and experience of design durable trails, mainly keeping water off the trails, they will last 50 to 100 years, according to Stewart.
Sawtelle added that the mountain bike trail system is not geared toward the direction of high speeds similar to extreme biking, rather it offers an endurance ride.
‘Alex specifically designs trail to actually slow bikes down,’ Sawtelle explains. ‘Similar to horses not being allowed to gallop down trails. It will be more of a pleasure ride.’
‘Technically the elevation is great, the descents are great,’ Stewart said. ‘They will make the climbs enjoyable and keep a good flow for every type of rider.’
Mountain biking has fast become a popular newer recreation. Historically popular on the west coast and regions of the Appalachian Mountains, the sport has become popular around the nation. Cross-country riding is the most popular for riders so they can experience different terrains from rock formations, roots and various climbs and descents. O’Bannon Woods, located about eight miles west of Corydon, offers the various terrain and elevation changes that could make the park a hot spot for regional bikers.
Stewart, of Indianapolis, estimates they have logged more than 100 hours in a few years of scouting the area and, he admits, they are just scratching the surface.
Not only is the Hoosier Mountain Biking Association community getting involved, Stewart is receiving assistance from the Kentucky Mountain Biking Association as well. He will also bring in other experienced trail builders from all areas of the country to help with this project.
‘The trails have the possibility to bring a great diversity to the park,’ Stewart said. ‘It may become a premium destination in the Midwest for mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners. It is already a premier destination for horseback riding, and we just want to add more to it.’