A Conversation About Alabama's Bright Mountain Biking Future

A mountain biker enjoys one of the CAMP-built trails at Chewacla State Park.
A mountain biker enjoys one of the CAMP-built trails at Chewacla State Park. Philip Darden
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If you’re a mountain biker in the Auburn/Opelika area of Alabama, there’s really only one “mountain” to speak of—the highest point in Lee County that’s located amid the 696 acres of Chewacla State Park. But with the state’s limited resources, expanding existing bike trails and building new ones were not priorities for the park. Enter Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers (CAMP), a non-profit formed in 2012 to promote mountain biking in the area. CAMP is the official IMBA-SORBA (International Mountain Biking Association) chapter in Central Alabama, and the group, now 80 members strong, has added 25 miles of trails at Chewacla, including 6 new miles that were opened to the public in late March.

We chatted with CAMP’s president and one of its founders, Philip Darden, to learn more about what they do, why they do it, and where he and his friends love to ride.

Why start CAMP?

Before CAMP, I was really focused on racing, but I was getting a little burned out and wanted to get back to riding just for fun. I realized there was a need for more mountain biking opportunities in our area, so I got involved with a group, and we created CAMP. Once we began trail building, I found out I really enjoy the labor involved and helping determine trail routes. And the advocacy part of CAMP fits my personality. I’m a mountain biker but also a cyclist. I want everybody to ride bikes, any kind of bike, anywhere.

One of the newer trails at Chewacla.
One of the newer trails at Chewacla. Philip Darden

Tell us a little about the trails CAMP has built.

We’ve really added something for everyone at Chewacla State Park; the trails vary from very beginner to trails for advanced riders. And many are multi-use trails that walkers and hikers use and enjoy. The new 6 miles of trails are in an area of the park that was previously inaccessible to bikes, and they are really mountain bike optimized with burn turns, jumps, and things like that. They are hikeable, but definitely bike-specific.

Why focus on Chewacla State Park?

The terrain at Chewacla is amazing and unlike anywhere else in our area; it sits on a fault line, and there are some big hills. The top of the park is the highest point in Lee County. There are a number of pretty creeks lined with mountain laurels. When you get deep in the park, it’s like you’ve been transported somewhere else; it’s like being in the Appalachians. Plus, park officials have been so welcoming. They were happy to have us come in and improve their facilities; it’s bringing in additional park visitors. They’ve given us the freedom to build trails that mountain bikers want.

All the CAMP-built trails at Chewacla were either built complety by hand or finished by hand.
All the CAMP-built trails at Chewacla were either built complety by hand or finished by hand. Hiro Fukai

What does trail building involve?

The lower Chewacla sections, the older stuff, were built by hand and that involves digging and cutting and shaping the trails. The new 6 miles were built using a grant, and we had a professional trail builder with machinery come in and cut trails. But our members still came in behind and finished it by hand, cutting roots, etc.

What are your favorite trails to ride in Chewacla?

I have two. The first is on a section of the Creek View Trail that has some historical value. That section was built in 1909 as a bike path from downtown Auburn to Moore’s Mill, which is now the park. It follows the creek and is a really pretty area.

My second favorite is riding up to the overlook at the top of the park, and in the last year, the park cleared some trees so you can see all the way to the bottom where there is a large creek and an old steel bridge. It gives you a good perspective of the height difference and has great scenic appeal.

CAMP members and others love Chewacla for its scenic appeal.
CAMP members and others love Chewacla for its scenic appeal. Philip Darden

Where else do you ride and what's on the horizon for CAMP?

We cover Montgomery to Alexander City. We have a memorandum of understanding with two other properties in Central Alabama. We maintain trails in Tuskegee National Forest, and those are some great rides. We also maintain trails at a property called Lake Wilmore in Auburn. We have plans in the future to develop that area further and make a "gateway into mountain biking" trail.

A few weeks ago, we helped some folks build a trail at Lagoon Park in Montgomery, and we will be doing some work with Russell Lands at Lake Martin. We want to make our entire region a mountain bike region. We have a fabulous group of dedicated members; our passion for riding is really infectious, and that’s led to our success so far.

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