“Most of them were out some distance,” said Lansford, a 55-year-old IRS employee.
While designated mountain biking trails are few and far between, the Nantahala National Forest around Franklin is rife with old logging roads open to riding.
“We would just take off on a trail and see where it went. We found out which were good ones and which were not such good ones. It was trial and error,” Lansford said.
But the long haul to get there wasn’t always practical for after work jaunts, a quick Sunday morning ride or beginners wanting to test their new fat tires. That’s now a conundrum of the past, however, thanks to a network of mountain bike trails in the center of Franklin. The trail network — three interconnected loops with 2.6 miles of single-track — was recently constructed by local volunteers on land owned by the Macon County Recreation Department adjacent to the Little Tennessee Greenway.
Pam Forshee, owner of Smoky Mountain Bicycles, which was instrumental in bringing the trail to fruition, said the trail will be a tremendous asset for the community.
“We want to be able to provide the community with opportunities and resources to ride and to enjoy the outdoors,” Forshee said.
Lansford said the new trail system will be a great starting place for newcomers to the world of mountain biking.
“I think it will bring out mountain bikers who have not ventured off the pavement yet,” Lansford said. “These beginning trails will give them a place to start in real trail riding.”
That’s not to say the trails aren’t any fun for more advanced riders.
“If you ride them slowly they are fairly easy, but the faster you ride them the more challenging they are,“ Lansford said. “We expect to have a lot of runners and hikers on it as well.”
In fact, there already have been.
While the official dedication of the trail is this weekend, parts of the trail have been open and ridable since last spring and were frequented by those in the know. Lansford thinks the trail network will gain in popularity as more people learn about it. For starters, mountain biking in general seems to have increased, at least judging by what Lansford has witnessed since the mid-1990s at Tsali, the most famous of mountain bike destinations in WNC.
“It went from three or four cars on a Sunday afternoon to a whole new parking lot that gets completely full on a day with nice weather,” Lansford said.
The Macon County trail construction was truly a grassroots effort, with local mountain bikers turning out for trail workdays over the course of several months in 2006. Lansford helped design part of the trail. Aside from studying trail building techniques published by the International Mountain Biking Association, Lansford had no particular experience in this department, other than his “many, many years riding in the forest on trails,” he said.
“It takes an eye for what we call a ‘line,’” Lansford said. “With mountain bike trails you have to stand in a location for few minutes and visualize being on a bike to see what would be a good line to go through the forest.”
The mountain bike circuit will be called the Lewis Soles Memorial Trail, named after a warm-hearted, easy-spirited and well-loved figure in both mountain bike and road bike circles in Macon County.
“He was a very gentle soul. He always had a good word and encouragement for anyone,” Lansford said.
Soles, who was also a runner, passed away from cancer a couple of years ago.
“He was in incredible shape,” Lansford said. Lansford remembers one of their last rides together, about four months before Soles passed away.
“He was 71 and he had had cancer for some time at that point but it was all I could do to keep up with him,” Lansford said.
“He made such an impact not only in the way he rode but in the way he lived his life in general. He had a special place in the hearts of most of the riders around here so we just wanted to do something that would honor to his memory.”