Saved by Conservationists, Funded Through YouTube: Berm Park in Canton, NC Will be One of a Kind

All photos courtesy of Seth Alvo

Recreation enthusiasts and mountain bikers should all be grateful that there are organizations out there that are as interested and active in preserving land as developers who want to profit from it. Through a long, tedious process and a watchful eye, the Southern Appalachians Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) acquired a 448-acre piece of land in Canton, North Carolina last year that was sitting idle, originally slated to become a motorsports track with capacity for nearly 10,000 spectators. SAHC says that the motorsports concept came about nearly 20 years ago, but the rubber never met the road.

Because of SAHC’s deal, hikers, mountain bikers, and trail users will have a new open space in Canton to enjoy later this year, and mountain bikers will have a public bike park to compliment the growing mountain bike culture around the Asheville area. Berm Park will be a roughly 10-acre public bike park within Chestnut Mountain, with bike-only flow and jump trails made just for riders. Seth Alvo of the Seth’s Bike Hacks YouTube channel opened the gate for Berm Park.

SAHC says that the property is a big wildlife corridor and the deal will conserve habitat for bears, deer, amphibians, and reptiles. When they gifted the land to the City of Canton, the catch was that it must be used for recreation.

“As a land trust, it is our role to try to look 10-20 years out to predict how expanding development will impact significant wildlife movement areas, water resources, and to try to secure spaces to allow people to enjoy getting out into the forest,” said SAHC Conservation Director Hanni Muerdter in a statement.

“This property is one of the remaining larger undeveloped tracts in an important area for conservation, and we are extremely excited the landowner wanted to sell the tract for a conservation outcome. This project presents inspiring potential for a public park — a vision of recreation and conservation working together.”

The North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust awarded $1.2 million to SAHC for the purchase. Inside the park’s nine miles of stream are brown trout, which will also be permanently protected. The North Carolina Attorney General also awarded a $150,000 environmental grant to SAHC. According to North Carolina newspaper, The Mountaineer, the land’s property value in 2017 was $785,000.

In 2019, Seth Alvo, whose YouTube channel(s) Berm Peak and Berm Peak Express have close to 3 million subscribers, was looking for a way to start paying it forward with money that he gathered from Patreon. Alvo makes all his content free and available on YouTube, but followers can also show their appreciation financially via Patreon. Many of his videos were devoted to building trails himself in his backyard at his old house, Berm Creek, and now his new house, Berm Peak. What better way to give back to not only his devoted followers, but to the community than build a public bike park? That, he told his Patreon subscribers, is where their dollars would go.

“And, not only was everyone like ‘oh, that’s great,’ but some of them doubled down on their pledges,” Alvo told us in an interview. “It was very quiet. I didn’t make a lot of big announcements or anything.” In a video posted this past fall he revealed that the park would be built in Canton on Chestnut Mountain. Through money from Patreon, which is still steadily bringing in around $4,000 a month, and corporate and brand sponsorships, Alvo has raised more than $200,000 to build Berm Park.

When his idea for a bike park first came about he had no idea where or how it would happen. A lot of it came by luck, he says. First, Alvo got in touch with SORBA, the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association.

“I reached out to them first because I had no place else to start. We tried Asheville. We tried a few different towns and everyone was kind of lukewarm about it. That’s kind of how it was. It was a lot of poking around and talking to people and getting dead ends.”

Eventually, he got connected to SAHC and found out about Chestnut Mountain. The conservancy was on board, as was the town manager of Canton, a fellow mountain biker.

“As it stands now, the plan is not what it was when I first started. It’s changed a lot,” he says. Alvo calls himself the founder of Berm Park. Canton is supporting the project and paid for the master plan. Elevated Trail Design came up with the layout and will be cutting trail. But he has been organizing all of the funding and pitched sponsorship to everyone who has signed on, including Diamondback Bicycles. He’s running video production to get Berm Park on his Berm Peak YouTube channel.

“And now I’m doing all sorts of things in the background.” He knows sponsors want to support something great for the community, like Berm Park, but brands generally don’t want to throw their money at projects solely for a good cause. They want a return on investment. They know their logo will show up in front of millions of viewers on YouTube. He’s also thought of an enticing sculpture at the top of the park, where riders can pose with their bike and post the photos to Instagram. It’s something that visitors, founders, and funders can all get stoked for.

For Alvo’s main sponsor, Diamondback, it was an easy choice to get involved and help build Berm Park. They’ve sponsored one of the trails entirely. “Diamondback has always been passionate about making the MTB community accessible,” says marketing director Jill Nazeer. “That factors into the bikes we make, the places we sell, and the events we attend. It also influences the projects we support. When Seth came to us saying he was going to build a community park, it was a no brainer that we wanted to be involved. We look forward to seeing how this park positively impacts the trail community not just in Canton, but in the entire region.”

The mileage at Berm Park won’t be huge, but Alvo believes it will fill a need for the community. Many of the trails in the Pisgah National Forest require a time commitment to ride, making them less friendly options during the week. The Riveter is a new private bike park, but suited best for BMX and dirt jumpers. Ride Kanuga is a new gravity park founded by Neko Mullaly, although it does require a pass. Berm Park will offer a stacked loop system, with shorter trails, and it will be free, and an easy place to bring kids and first time riders, but with trails for advanced riders too. The trails will all be directional and bike-only within the park. According to the master plan, Berm Park total mileage for all trails will be about 6,800 feet, with close to 17 miles of trail on Chestnut Mountain.

On the frontside, there will be a picnic area close to a skills course, and nearby, there will be an outdoor classroom beside a restored wetland, bird blinds for watching avian wildlife, and other conservation-minded features to enhance education.

Berm Park’s area will be about ten acres in the 450 acre park, and there will be more trails above the park on Chestnut Mountain. These trails will be more natural, and riders can pedal further up the mountain, take them back down, and then end in one of Berm Park’s flow trails. Some will still be bike only, and others will be multi-use or hike-only. Camping should be available on the property and with the new park, should come more opportunities and amenities for riders.

“The whole town is stoked,” says Alvo. “The mayor is stoked. The town manager is stoked. Everybody in town government is welcoming Berm Park with open arms and they’re trying to do all they can to prepare for the traffic and make it an awesome place to hang out. They’re really, really leaning into it, from the mayor down. And, not just for Berm Park, but for Chestnut Mountain. People are over the moon stoked for it.”