It’s early spring in Fayetteville, WV, and the lights buzz above the baseball field in Fayetteville Town Park. The sound of a baseball snapping into a mitt cuts through the chatter of parents on the bleachers. Andrew Forron is barrelling toward the park’s outskirts on his trusty singlespeed as he attempts to outpace the darkness into the woods. “I think we can make it,” Forron questions more than he states as he enters a maze of rhododendron. Whatever daylight is left barely filters through the forest, and the trail becomes a faint ghostly ribbon weaving through the trees. Operating on what is most likely instinct and muscle memory, Forron plunges through the darkness on Chicken Wire, one of Fayetteville’s oldest mountain bike trails.
After a series of steep chutes and rock rolls, Chicken Wire exits onto Fayette Station Rd. The sound of the New River rushing by punches through the darkness. Above, silhouetted in the deep blue of dusk, is 1700ft of arched steel. The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and arguably a functional piece of art. The New River Gorge is the latest addition to the National Parks system, and this leaves Forron wondering about the future of mountain biking in the Gorge.
As Forron climbs up Fayette Station Road in the dark, he reminisces about visiting the bridge in his teen years and the hijinx that would take place with friends. Having moved to Fayetteville not long after those formidable years, Forron is the owner and operator of New River Bikes. Located on the main drag in Fayetteville, the shop has long been a hub for all things mountain biking in the Gorge. When not at the shop, he is 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 area 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 quite busy in the summer. The campsites fill up with climbers looking to test themselves on the technical routes in the Gorge, and buses full of whitewater rafters shuttle up and down Route 19. Mountain bikers in the area have felt like a third wheel compared to the climbers and water sports participants.
A few miles down the road from the designated National Park property is a recently established riding area named Wolf Creek. Ideas for the trails at Wolf Creek started back in 2016. With the design from Sam Chaber of SC Resources, proper mapping and flagging of the new trail network began. Simultaneously, Fayette Trail Coalition was working toward acquiring funding to keep the project rolling. While some small sections of the trail had already been hand-dug in by a dedicated group, funding and county approval didn’t kick in until April 2020. “We got the green light the day West Virginia went into lockdown,” Forron noted.
In no time, the trails at Wolf Creek started to take shape thanks to Chaber’s SC Resources and a handful of volunteers. The aptly named trail “Corona” started things off, and soon there were 14 miles of proper singletrack ranging from flowy and fast to good ol’ fashioned West Virginian 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 be using one percent of its sales tax revenue toward future trail projects and infrastructure, which is a considerable boost.
“We have been waiting for things to happen on the Federal side, which has been slow,” says Abbie Newell. “So, the local support has been huge.” With a proposition to add another 30 miles of trail to the area already planned, Newell and the Fayette Trail Coalition are banking on funding to help them complete the future projects. Along with additions to Wolf Creek, FTC is also planning an all-new trail network called Needle Eye. While only a mile away from Wolf Creek, Needle Eye is located in the town of Oak Hill, but a dirt road connects the two riding areas.
There are plans for more singletrack, a pump track, and skills area at the town park, along with renovations to the existing skatepark. Across the New River from Fayetteville, a riding area known as Arrowhead was established in 2011 on park property. Hosting just over 13 miles of singletrack, Arrowhead has several loop options ranging 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 completed on National Park property.
It wasn’t until 2010 that National Parks started to allow mountain bikes onto park property, and the number hosting proper singletrack for bikes is in the single digits. The New River Gorge is a bit of an anomaly, and rightfully so. Initially recognized as a National River, The New has been rooted in recreation well before it became a feather in the cap of a politician. Local mountain bikers like Forron and Newell are looking forward to what’s to come. Knowing that politics takes precedence over planning, Newell is confident that with or without federal funding, the dedicated organizations will be moving ahead with the proposed trail additions. The city of Oak Hill is committed to the trails at the Needle Eye location, and if need be, the groups will reach out to private donors.
Fayetteville has a flavor unto itself. It resembles a mountain town, dependent on recreation to keep the local economy moving in many ways. Without the big-spending that ski towns see, every visitor to the area makes an impact. The people of Fayetteville are well aware of the growth in mountain biking over the last few years and the impact trail riders can have on the local economy. With an expanding trail network and other world-class outdoor recreation on tap, the future of mountain biking in Fayetteville, WV, looks bright, accented with giant ferns and rock gardens.