West Campus trail work to begin soon

Josh Whitmore explores the site of a proposed trail on WCU's campus.

Josh Whitmore explores the site of a proposed trail on WCU’s campus.

Construction of nearly five miles of multiuse trail on Western Carolina University’s campus will begin this spring with support from a $75,000 grant from the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation’s Recreational Trails Program.

The grant, along with a $5,000 award from Specialized Bicycle Components, funds construction of the first phase of a trail system for walkers, hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers on WCU’s West Campus, where the $46 million Health and Human Sciences Building is nearing completion off of Little Savannah Road. The trail also will be used to support academic programs, such as recreational therapy and parks and recreation management.

“We are excited to be able to bring this resource to WCU and to the community,” said Josh Whitmore, associate director of outdoor programs at WCU and coordinator of the project.

Trail construction is expected to begin in April or May, with completion expected during the summer, said Whitmore. The initial access point will be from the Health and Human Sciences Building, and the trail will feature a natural surface and be wide enough to accommodate one person or mountain biker at a time.

Although located in an area with steep terrain, the path will follow a route designed to have only a few short sections with as much as 20 percent gradient and no sustained sections that exceed a 15 percent gradient.

“The overall difficulty will be in the moderate to intermediate range,” said Whitmore.

Members of the community are invited to volunteer to assist with construction of the trail under the direction of a professional trail-building company and to attend a trail-building workshop on March 24 presented by an International Mountain Bicycling Association Trail Care Crew.

The free event, hosted by WCU and the Nantahala Area chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association and IMBA, will include a required 9 a.m. to noon classroom session, lunch, afternoon work on the trails and free 7 p.m. screening of “Pedal Driven, a Bike-umentary” in the multipurpose room in A.K. Hinds University Center. Volunteers are asked to register at www.imba.com/tcc/schedule to allow organizers to plan for food, tools and space.

“We are truly jazzed about this new trail system,” said Sae Smyrl, president of Nantahala Area SORBA. “In addition to adopting the existing trail system at Tsali Recreation Area, the club is committed to helping create a new, more central place to play in the woods.”

Nick Bragg, a junior from Abingdon, Va., majoring in engineering technology and president of the WCU Cycling Team, said students today drive at least an hour to enjoy the most accessible, mountain-bike friendly trails in the area.

“This is, without a doubt, a facility that students will take advantage of every day, from stress-relieving nature walks to fast mountain bike riding,” said Bragg. “Having trail access that is legal, fun and close will draw cyclists to WCU, where we already have some of the best road-biking roads on the East Coast.”

For more information, visit the “WCU Trail System Info” link on the Base Camp Cullowhee website at basecamp.wcu.edu or contact Whitmore at 828-227-3466 or jwhitmore@wcu.edu.