This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

When it’s done, it’ll slice through the foothills for more than three miles, built specifically for the mountain bikes that will whiz over it – and it will have been brought to reality largely through the efforts of Caldwell County volunteers.

Members of Caldwell County Pathways hope to break ground on the area’s first purpose-built mountain biking trail by August, Pathways board member Shawn Moore said.

The trail will run three and a half miles between the Lenoir Aquatic Center and the Zacks Fork Soccer Complex. The total cost will come in at about $35,000; organizers have already raised $23,500 in grants and private donations. After construction starts, the trail should be completed in about 45 days, Moore said.The trail has been on Moore’s radar for more than 10 years, along with Jeff Welch (together, the two own Luna Cycles in downtown Lenoir). There’s a difference in a trail built specifically for mountain biking and one that just happens to be suitable, Moore said – and organizers hope the purpose-built trail will draw tourism to the county.

“One of the greatest untapped resources that we enjoy in Caldwell County is outdoor recreation,” Moore said. “This project will anchor a larger push to establish our area as a destination for outdoor recreation tourism.”

Design, and a rough cut of the trail, is being handled by Horton Designs – a company that designed a number of mountain biking trails, including the Warrior Creek system at W. Kerr Scott Reservoir in Wilkes County. After that, though, local volunteers will complete work on the trail.

“We’ve had a lot of people volunteering to help,” Welch said. “We are really pleased at the support that the cycling community has for this project. Once we start breaking ground, I think we’ll be overwhelmed with volunteers.”

Once completed, the Zacks Fork Mountain Bike Trail will be the county’s first purpose-built mountain biking trail – meaning one constructed with mountain bikers in mind. That will allow for construction considerations specific to biking, reducing the future impact of weather conditions and drainage on the trail, Moore said.

And those backing the trail hope it will put the focus on western North Carolina – and Caldwell County specifically – as a hot spot for outdoor opportunities. Often, Moore said, when people say they’re “mountain biking in Boone,” they’re actually talking about spots well inside the Caldwell County line.

“We have seen towns around us making a push to tap into outdoor recreation and claiming areas in Caldwell County as being theirs,” Welch said. “From national magazine articles to large events, those areas outside of Caldwell County are taking advantage of resources that we should be realizing the benefits from.”

At its May meeting, the Lenoir Tourism Development Authority approved a $7,500 grant for the trail and pledged an additional $2,500 when the project nears completion. Specialized Bicycle Corp., the Google Fund of the Tides Foundation, Horizon Surgical Associates and Blue Mountain Revival have also contributed money.