Odds are you’ve seen them—probably with increasing regularity over the past several years—automobiles with fat-tired mountain bicycles attached to them. While they’re not uncommon sights on the area’s major highways such as Interstate 77 or U.S. Routes 50 and 7, they’re also frequently seen moving through the Mid-Ohio Valley’s cities and towns, sometimes toward the north of Marietta on Greene Street as it changes into OH SR 26, and sometimes in the general direction of east of Parkersburg. Questions might arise in the mind of an observer of these bicycles in transit, such as: where do they go, and once there, what do they do?
As it turns out, there’s a story in that.
The Mid-Ohio Valley sits at one of the major crossroads of Appalachian America, Interstate 77 and US 50. But the X that these highways make on the map also marks the spot of a true regional treasure, one hewn from the land with not only over two decades’ worth of tough physical labor, but also from countless hours of thoughtful planning and relationship building with the region’s public land managers.
All told, there are over 100 miles of singletrack trails (more on that in a minute) open to mountain bikers across Wood and Ritchie Counties in West Virginia, and Washington County in Ohio. These trails exist on greenspaces owned by local, county, state, and federal governments and sometimes by private landowners who’ve granted public access to the trails on their properties. The variety, quality and extent of these trails attract not only a growing number of locals, but also visitors from surprisingly far afield to experience their potential for fitness and recreation, as well as to enter the competitive events regularly hosted on these trail systems.
And these trail systems all have one thing in common—they have been built or maintained or both over the last 20 years by a local nonprofit known as the River Valley Mountain Bike Association (RVMBA).
According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation’s 2013 Outdoor Participation Report, 42.3 million Americans bicycled that year, making it the third most popular outdoor activity by participation rate and the second favorite activity by frequency of participation, at 2.7 billion total bicycle rides. An important segment of these were by mountain bikers, made possible in no small part by the growing number of natural surface trails built nationwide according to standards developed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) for constructing sustainable “singletrack” trails.
Sustainable singletrack is built using the natural contours of the land and basic design principles concerning steepness and water drainage. These guidelines produce narrow (18-36 inches), earthen trails with gradual inclines that, aside from regular maintenance, last a very long time with a minimum of trail damage from erosion.
The River Valley Mountain Bike Association was an early adopter of these trail-building standards, and right around 1990 began the process of gaining access to public lands to build such trails, and to act as their stewards through regular maintenance. What began at Wood County’s Mountwood Park, has now grown to include trail construction and maintenance agreements with North Bend State Park in Ritchie County, the Wayne National Forest’s Marietta unit, the city of Marietta’s trail network and the trails in Parkersburg’s Johnson T. Janes city park.
In fact, there is such an abundance of trail riding opportunities in the Mid-Ohio Valley that this has led to the emergence of a growing mountain biking community, complete with annual events such as the Challenge At Mountwood, North Bend’s Race Around the Bend and The Wayne Ultra. These races are part of larger statewide series, and pull in hundreds of racers to the area yearly. RVMBA also holds kids’ skills clinics and hosts its annual Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day on the Marietta Trail Network.
That bicycling is thriving here is further attested to by the fact that several bike shops operate in the MOV. Two in particular, the Marietta Adventure Company and Parkersburg Bicycle, both contribute considerably to the efforts of RVMBA, and are de facto gathering places for local mountain bikers.
Over time, all of this has led to a wider awareness of these trail systems, and this region has evolved into a genuine mountain biking tourism stopover for travelers from outside the area. People come to the MOV to ride mountain bikes not only because of the total trail mileage here, but also because with nearly 25 years of trail design and construction experience behind them, the strong-backed work crews of RVMBA have become quite good at building them.
These trails are almost endlessly fun to bicycle as they weave their way through the MOV’s beautiful natural scenery, dominated by the majesty of the eastern hardwood forests. Their layouts, which make wonderfully accessible the region’s undulating and rocky terrain, beg to be ridden again and again.
Additionally, amenities such as excellent signage, available maps and a growing online presence, coupled with the area’s hospitality industry, make it is easy to see why the MOV’s star is rising as an adventure tourism destination.
But to get an even better feel for the value RVMBA has added to our region, consider recent IMBA average per-foot trail construction cost estimates for the type of terrain found locally. At $3 to $5 per foot of trail in time, labor and materials (approximately $15,000-$26,000 per mile), it is an understatement to say that what has been done here entirely with volunteer labor is impressive. With the support of local land managers, the trails in the MOV continue to be built by RVMBA at a steady rate, and more are opened every year.
Which all sounds well and good if a person is into mountain biking, but if the truth were told, most people are not. Beyond economic impact, how do the efforts of RVMBA really benefit the lives of those who do not bicycle off road?
Consider that beyond the asphalt, the greenspaces of the MOV are living classrooms for studying the seasons, plants and animals, geology and the relics of our region’s history. As most who have spent time in our parks and woodlands would likely agree, being in the peaceful setting of the forest is an effective balm for many of the stresses of daily life. It’s a place where cares tend to dissolve and the immediacy of one’s surroundings takes precedence. The trails of the MOV are also its largest physical fitness facility, and the act of biking or hiking along these trails is good for the body and mind.
And therein lies the rub. Although these trails are built by a relatively small group of highly-dedicated mountain-biking enthusiasts, they are ideal for hikers and trail runners, too. Anyone with the ability, will and a decent pair of shoes can take advantage of what they have to offer. The trails of our parks and public lands are, in a sense, for everyone and it is this simple fact that makes what RVMBA does so important for the Mid-Ohio Valley as a whole.
The River Valley Mountain Bike Association is a diverse group of motivated, yet almost impossibly-easy-to-get-along-with people. They work hard to encourage anyone with an interest in mountain biking or supporting the MOV’s trails to join their organization. Annual memberships are $15 for individuals, $20 for families, $5 for youth, and it’s as easy as going to their website (rvmba.com) and signing up.