Feb. 23 event to mark opening of WCU trail system

Volunteers help build a new trail at Western Carolina University.

Volunteers help build a new trail at Western Carolina University. (Photo by WCU student John Witherspoon)

A grand opening celebration for Western Carolina University’s new Multi-Use Trail System will be held Saturday, Feb. 23.

The event will take place at the picnic shelter near the Catamount Softball Complex from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will include a guided hike and mountain bike ride, mountain biking skills and bicycle maintenance clinics, an adaptive sports presentation, live music, a ribbon-cutting ceremony and free food, games and prizes.

The trail features 6.7 miles of narrow, single-track trail that Nick Bragg, a senior from Abingdon, Va., says is full of “flowy terrain, short burst climbs and wide smiles.”

“Most would say they love the view from the switchbacks, but I love the climb that starts with a bang right out of the parking lot,” said Bragg, who is majoring in engineering technology and serves as president of the WCU Cycling Club. “It is a little heartbreaker and gets the blood moving.”

In addition to being used for recreation, the facility supports initiatives connected to academic programs including recreational therapy and parks and recreation management.

The trail system will be accessible from two access points: the parking lot of WCU’s new Health and Human Sciences Building on Little Savannah Road and the pedestrian tunnel under Highway 107 near WCU’s softball complex. The access point through the tunnel connects users to the trail via property of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

A special presentation at 11:30 a.m. by Adaptive Sports and Adventures Program will center on trail design and equipment such as hand cycles to increase accessibility for people who have disabilities.

A guided group ride and hike at the Feb. 23 event will begin at 12:30 p.m.

A beginner mountain bike skills clinic sponsored by Bryson City Bicycles will be held at 12:30 p.m., and a bicycle maintenance clinic sponsored by Motion Makers Bicycle Shop will take place at 2:30 p.m.

“Local,” the funk jam mountain band, will perform live starting at 3:30 p.m., and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at 4 p.m.

“We’re really excited to be wrapping up the construction phase of this project and open the trail to the public,” said Josh Whitmore, associate director of outdoor programs at WCU and coordinator of the project. “This whole concept has been about five years in the making, and the construction phase alone has been under way since April. To date, WCU students and community members have completed more than 1,500 hours of volunteer labor to help finish the project. Overall, it will be a great resource for the university and the region. I encourage everyone to come check it out and be a part of the grand opening celebration.”

The WCU Multi-Use Trail system was built with support from a $75,000 grant from the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation’s Recreational Trails Program and a $5,000 award from Specialized Bicycle Components. A $14,440 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation in 2009 funded initial development of a master plan for the project.

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