The New River is a south-to-north flowing tour de force of Appalachia. It begins at the confluence of the South Fork New River and the North Fork New River in Ashe County, North Carolina, before heading northwest through the southwestern corner of Virginia, and into Fayette County, West Virginia. It eventually merges with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha. Downstream it'll become the Ohio River and after that the Mississippi. It's a stunning, aqueous journey from beginning to end, but its most beautiful stretch occurs once it hits Fayetteville, WV. Here, the New slices through an ancient Appalachian Canyon, better known as the New River Gorge, with 1,000-foot walls of lush, rainforest laden sandstone jutting upwards towards the clouds above a ribbon of slate blue below.
The town of Fayetteville rests along the precipice of the gorge, with its famous New River Bridge Gorge Bridge, the longest single span arch bridge in the western hemisphere, spanning the gap of one of the planet's oldest rivers and drawing several thousands of visitors every year to take in the views. Fayetteville is a town driven by outdoor tourism, and over the years, the community of nearly 3,000 souls has received a handful of accolades, including "Best River Town" by Blueridge Outdoors Magazine, and "Coolest Small Town" by Budget Travel Magazine. For several years, the town has attracted kayakers, climbers, hikers, and even B.A.S.E. jumpers. Mountain bikers come here as well, but with several other destinations between it and major population centers, it hasn't really received its share.
But that's about to change. Within a five mile radius of downtown, there are four separate trail networks, including several within National Park boundaries, and several networks built and/or maintained by The Boy Scouts of America. The crown jewel of their efforts is the network located at the Summit Bechtel Reserve, with 50 trails spanning close to 35-miles of primarily bike park style riding. The Summit is a 10,000+ acre facility utilized during the summer months by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America and features a slew of recreational opportunities for scouts, including nine BMX tracks, several skateparks, a rifle range, a dual slalom course, multiple pumptracks, and more.
For three months each summer, it's only open to the scouts and for special events. However, the rest of the year sees this place open up to everyone, with trail access granted to members of the New River Bicycle Union. Essentially, anyone can become a member, which in turn provides them with access to mile upon mile of progressive and scenic trail riding. Even more enticing are the plans in place to begin building trails on an adjacent mountain from where most of the trails are currently located, called Garden Ground Mountain. From the top of that ridgeline to the New River, trails will drop 1,500 vertical feet with more of a singletrack, hand built element of design.
Fayetteville has long been a popular destination for the outdoor industry, and now it seems mountain biking is ready to sink its teeth into this ancient and stunning landscape as well. There is no doubt riders will enjoy the feast.
It's not tropical, but it is a rainforest.
Fayetteville has a tourism-based economy, and with three bike shops in a town of 3,000, features a solid per capita average!
The New River Gorge Bridge was the longest arch bridge on the planet when it was finished construction in the late 70's.
Phil Waidner leads the charge, both literally and figuratively, for all bicycle programs here at the Summit Bechtel Reserve.
The Arrowhead Bike Farm is located at the trailhead for the Arrowhead Trails, a stacked loop system featuring 15-miles of XC oriented singletrack.
Here's to many more visits to what was once the East Coast's best-kept secret.