Mountain bikers get to work in Markin Glen

There are some pretty gnarly hills in the woods of Markin Glen Park's west side.

Mountain bikers, hungry for a singletrack ride close to home, have just launched work on a trail through the under-utilized portion of the Kalamazoo park between North Westnedge and Douglas. Volunteers of the Southwest Michigan Mountain Biking Association, along with professional trail builders, should have completed a new spot to ride by next spring/early summer.

For the past five years, "we've been working on trying to get a good trail built somewhere closer to Kalamazoo. So we don't have to commute out to Fort Custer every time we want to ride our bikes," says Travis Bell, SWMMBA president.

Fort Custer Recreation Area has popular trails that see around 40,000 riders a year, but it's past Augusta, a drive for Kalamazooans. Texas Township's Al Sabo Preserve is another popular destination, but its trails, designed by Boy Scouts, often have erosion and maintenance issues, Bell says.

After a five-year process of planning and paperwork with the Kalamazoo County Parks Department and director Dave Rachowicz, SWMMBA members got out rakes and shovels Aug. 29 to clear a trail through the trees. They expected to do about half of the five to six miles of singletrack.

The other half, since it involves "very abrupt, steep hills," will be designed and built by Spectrum Trail Design, who've built star trails around the Midwest. They know how to keep it natural-looking, avoid erosion, and make "a good, flowing, fun ride."

To hire Spectrum, the SMMBA will be raising funds from area businesses and individual donors.

Those who don't mountain bike might wonder, after all the money spent on other non-motorized trails, like the Kal-Haven or the KRVT, why put resources into a narrow and hilly dirt trail?

"Mountain bikers are looking for a little different experience. They want to get out in the woods, a lot of us like the physical exertion of a really hard run--this trail will be a little more challenging," he says.

"This is going to be the after-work trail. You get done with work, you hit that trail, do a couple of laps, and you're going to be really wore-out by the time you're done. And you'll still be home in time for dinner."

Connectivity with downtown was also a factor in the attractiveness of the site. One could "park at Bell's (Brewery), ride the KRVT to Markin Glen..." do your jumps and climbs, ride back, "and have a tasty beverage," he says. "This is truly a trail for the locals."  

Writer: Mark Wedel, Second Wave Media
Source: Travis Bell, Southwest Michigan Mountain Biking Association
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