Pisgah Area SORBA (Southern Off Road Biking Association) began work recently to reroute the popular middle section of Black Mountain Trail in Pisgah National Forest.

The trail is open to both hiking and mountain biking, but it has come to be known as one of the most popular mountain biking routes in the forest.

The new trail will replace the 2.2-mile section of middle Black from Turkey Pen Gap to the switchback above lower Black.

The reroute will add over a mile of trail to the existing length of Black Mountain Trail and is being built with modern trail design principles, which focus on sustainability and proper water drainage.

The U.S. Forest Service has partnered with Pisgah Area SORBA to complete the trail work, and local award-winning trail builder Chris “Shrimper” Khare, with Singletrack Trails, was selected for the job.

The U.S. Forest Service had previously identified middle Black as a trail that needed to be de- commissioned and rerouted due to its heavy erosion, which has led to the high levels of sedimentation being washed into nearby waterways. Left unchecked, the trail will continue to widen, form deep ruts and dirty the waterways.

“We’ve got a ton of rain in this area, and when it rains it just goes straight down the trail, essentially with middle Black,” said Doug Miller, vice president of Pisgah Area SORBA. “If you’ve been out in the trail at all in recent years, especially in this last year, you’ll notice in spots that you’re actually standing several feet below where the trail used to be. You can stand in the middle of the trail and look to the side and see where the old tread was, and, maybe, it’s at your shoulders at times. So, it’s clear just by looking at it with a casual eye, and, really, even a nonprofessional can go out there and see that this trail has been completely eroded.”

Black Mountain Trail in its entirety is currently 9.8 miles long and one of the longest continuous descents in the forest, making it an iconic mountain biking destination for locals and tourists from around the world.

One of the reasons for the trail’s popularity is how steep it is.

Like many other trails built in Pisgah around the same time as Black Mountain Trail, the trail was built along an old logging route on a fall line, which is the most direct path down the mountain.

This means for many sections of the trail it is straight, steep and rocky, with many roots.

For this, many riders love the challenge of both climbing far enough into the woods to make it to the middle, upper or “upper-upper” section of the trail and descending for miles through the steep, technical terrain.

The problem with this kind of trail, however, is that like speed-loving mountain bikers, water also wants to take the most direct route down the mountain, and when it rains, the trail becomes like a creek bed channeling mud and water toward the nearest river.

“It doesn’t compare at all,” said Khare when describing the new reroute. “And that’s going to be the hard part for people to wrap their heads around...The old Black Mountain happened so organically in such a bad way and without a plan that it was almost doomed to fail because it’s just too steep. And the hikers of the day were all about getting some place in a hurry.”

In the Pisgah Ranger District, the Forest Service relies on volunteer groups to maintain the trail system, which was built before sustainability in trail design was even a concept.

In 2019, the nearby Avery Creek Trail was redesigned to fix erosion and drainage issues and the work drew some attention from a few avid riders who expressed dissatisfaction with the end result. A small but vocal contingency of mountain bikers have expressed resentment over changes to well-loved fall- line trails like Avery Creek or middle Black that offer a particularly rowdy downhill experience into a more tame trail.

Khare said that the current middle Black is simply damaged beyond repair.

“It’s always fun to walk those trails with an avid cyclist who thinks the trail is in great shape, and then to point out the little things... and they’re like ‘Oh I didn’t notice that,’ (or) ‘Oh I didn’t realize that.’ And it’s just, look at all the degradation,” he said. “I mean it would be like riding through a neighborhood and not seeing graffiti and broken light posts.”

According to Miller, on the reroute, riders and hikers can expect improved sight lines, which means users will be better able to see each other, reducing the risk for user conflict.

Miller also said users can expect a “back country single-track” experience.

The reroute will also have excellent views of Looking Glass Rock and the surrounding valley, like the current middle Black.

Khare describes the difficulty of the new trail like a “bull frog” – a trail that is green (or easy) with black (very difficult) spots on it.

“I feel like to the untrained eye we’ve built a green trail, but for the experienced rider it should have enough black spots in it to keep them quite enthused and keep them coming back for more,” Khare said.

Overall, most people are excited about the work, Miller said.

“Everybody who cares about middle Black is obviously going to miss the old trail,” he said. “We have been riding in this forest and enjoying these trails and it’s hard to lose something that you love. But at the same time, the fact that we’ve been able to get Shrimper to do this work, and that we’ve really gotten a lot of feedback from the community to try to do everything that we can to make sure that this trail maintains the character that we know and love when it comes to the trails in Pisgah, I think we’ve been able to communicate that pretty well to our constituency, and, like I said, the response so far has been great.”

Life-long Pisgah rider and owner of Sycamore Cycles in Pisgah Forest Wes Dickson said he is excited about the new trail.

Dickson has been riding Black Mountain since he was in the 5th grade, back when the main type of recreation in the forest was hunting and fishing.

“That trail has changed a lot,” Dickson said. “That trail had multiple reroutes on it, and so it’s kind of interesting to see people are for it, people are against it, what have you, but the location of that trail has changed multiple times already. It’s just the nature of that trail. It’s going to change again...the change is inevitable. I’m all for it. I’m really excited to ride it and see what it’s all about.”

Dickson said he was also excited to see the trail become more accessible for more riders.

In its current state, Dickson said he would fear sending a new or unfamiliar rider down middle Black due to how dangerous it has become.

“I’m really excited about it, and I’m really excited to see that we have entities that are willing to put money into our trail system because for decades now we’ve basically dealt with the trails we have and very few dollars have been put into our trail system,” he said. “And to see people step up to the plate, who put money into the trails of this level is amazing, and I would love to see it continue and, hopefully, people see that as a positive at the end of the day.”

Miller said users can expect to see closures on the current middle Black by the end of June and once it’s closed, it’s closed for good.

So far, over 3,000 feet of the reroute have been completed, and Pisgah Area SORBA expects it to be finished by the end of July.

For more information on the reroute or to learn how to get involved with trail maintenance, visit www. pisgahareasorba.org.

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