Enduro, downhill, and bike park enthusiasts will soon be heading to the small town of Ironton, Missouri to get their gravity fix. Shepherd Mountain Bike Park is slated to open on April 3 in the town of roughly 1,500 people, surprising not only the residents who don’t mountain bike, but anyone else who might have assumed that gnarly bike park riding wasn’t possible in the middle of Missouri.
Klint Silvey, who grew up in Missouri and started mountain biking when he was in Texas, came back to Missouri later, and saw Shepherd Mountain in a new light.
“I remember I was driving into town and when you drive into Arcadia Valley from the North, you can see Shepherd Mountain, and for a Missouri mountain, it looks huge.” Silvey works as a marketing director for a local bank and got in touch with the city. He says the city wanted to do something with Shepherd Mountain, they just weren’t sure yet.
So, Silvey and a team of others formed the Valley Growth Initiative and made a case for the mountain. They scraped up as many studies on economic benefits from mountain bike tourism as possible.
“The local community, the local business owners, community groups, all embraced this project right from the start. Ultimately we were able to get funding from an organization called the Iron County Economic Partnership.”
Part of the funding comes from a settlement that was paid out by Ameren Corp, directed toward economic development, after a hydroelectric dam broke in 2005 near Ironton, resulting in a massive flood of about a billion gallons of water in under 15 minutes.
The project as a whole has moved very quickly too, says Silvey.
“What’s amazing is, it was less than a year from mentioning the idea in passing, to having dirt broken by the trail building company.”
The Shepherd Mountain Bike Park will bring something unique to the area when it’s complete. Sandwiched between a developing trail scene in St. Louis and a booming trail scene in Northwest Arkansas, the mountain opens up with about eight miles of shuttle-able gravity trails with a natural feel that contrasts other trails in the area. There are about 600 feet of vertical from top to bottom.
Riders can either buy a shuttle pass, and hop in a Humvee and trailer for a ride to the top, or pedal up for free. Shepherd Mountain doesn’t have an exact price on their lift tickets yet, but they should run similar to what other bike parks cost for a day pass, if not less expensive. Riders should plan to buy a ticket in advance as shuttle space is limited. The climbing trail has an average grade of 5% over 2.3 miles, so it shouldn’t be a miserable alternative.
A green flow trail with pumps and rollers, a blue jump trail and blue technical trail, and a black and double black trail will all wind down the mountain by April. At the base of the mountain, they are building a pavilion, and there will be a lodge with showers and a bike wash.
“We were insistent from the start that if it was going to be successful, that it would have to set itself apart from the hundreds of already available miles of cross-country singletrack.”
In St. Louis and in the Arcadia Valley, the bulk of the riding is XC in nature. In Northwest Arkansas, rolling flow trails have helped put the area on the map. Shepherd Mountain will open with enough technical terrain, that Big Mountain Enduro is opening their 2021 season at the park. The small Missouri town will be drinking mountain biking from a fire hose at the start.
The city contracted with Jagged Axe Trail Designs, who have built race-worthy enduro trails in Santa Fe, New Mexico and are currently based in Northwest Arkansas, staying busy with projects there.
“[The trails are] steep, they’re off camber in a lot of places. For the mid-west, it’s unlike anything else we have. That’s for sure,” says Alex Scott of Jagged Axe.
Locals have been sparking up conversations with Scott and the Jagged Axe crew in town.
“The community is really welcoming to it. From the standpoint of having zero mountain bikers in town when we started the project, in a town of 1,400, it was interesting to get such positive feedback on the project when the community doesn’t have really any personal vested interest in it, other than the economic development.”
Scott says the terrain on Shepherd Mountain easily made for some technical trails, with its fall lines, and rock slabs.
“I think people are going to be surprised when they come out to the BME race. The black trail is just a hair under 20% average grade.”
Even though most of the residents don’t mountain bike yet, and many will likely benefit indirectly from the park by tourism spending, the park is already piquing the interest of future mountain bikers. The Jagged Axe team has been staying on a resident’s property during building, and the owner’s son wanted to join the diggers for a day.
One day, turned into another day, and the 14-year-old wanted to keep helping out, so the builders helped him get a bike and he worked it off.
“It was kind of like bringing up someone who will likely be a trail steward to the trails on the mountain,” says Scott. And, the good news is that the first-time rider successfully made it to the bottom of the mountain on the green trail.
Check out the Shepherd Mountain Bike Park website for more information.