New Bike Park Has A Novel Approach – Kanuga Conference Center
Last updated 8/5/2020 at 4:20pm
The COVID-19 pandemic provided an unlikely opportunity for the Kanuga Bike Park to get up and running this summer, and with the park's novel business model, it will likely lead the charge in a wave of e-bike adventure centers in the future.
The park, located on the Kanuga Camp and Conferences property in Henderson County, has seen unexpectedly good success in its opening just two weeks ago.
Neko Mulally, a professional mountain bike downhill racer and Pisgah Forest resident, and Hendersonville sports medicine doctor Dave LaMond started exploring the idea for a bike park on the Kanuga property over the last year, with plans to get the business up and running in the fall or winter of 2020. When the pandemic hit, however, the park's plans were accelerated.
LaMond said with Camp Kanuga deciding to cancel camp this summer and Mulally stuck stateside with the World Cup race circuit canceled, the two began drawing up design plans in April.
Just three months later, the bike park now has eight trails built on roughly 200 acres of Kanuga land.
"We started designing everything around the first of April really, and then we set out to see how far we could get and, hopefully, open at some point," LaMond said. "We've had a couple of world class kind of guys out there designing and building because they're not racing this summer."
Bike parks typically operate like a ski resort, with all one-way directional trails.
In Kanuga's case, the park features a single climbing trail to the top of Wolf Mountain. Once at the top, the rider can choose from seven different downhill trails of varying degrees of difficulty, ranging from beginner-friendly to expert-only terrain, with large jumps and drops. Each downhill trail features roughly 500 feet of elevation drop and is around a mile long.
What is unique about Kanuga, however, is it offers a place to rent and bring e-bikes, which, so far, are not allowed on nearby Pisgah or DuPont trails. And unlike other mountain bike parks that use ski lifts or shuttles to drop riders off at the top of a downhill trail, Kanuga encourages visitors to let a pedal assist e-bike drop them off at the top of the downhill courses.
LaMond said there are other bike parks that rent and allow e-bikes to ride their trails, but he believes Kanuga is the first that uses them as a way to let riders experience the downhill time they would get at a traditional downhill park without the infrastructure of a lift or shuttle.
That model, LaMond said, has the industry talking.
"The industry is really excited about it," he said. "The conversations are really with the industry. They're sitting there saying, 'Finally, someone gets it. Can you guys do another one here?'"
LaMond said several component manufacturers have asked him about using Kanuga as a proving ground for customers to gear test, while several others have asked for help to start a similar park in other parts of the country.
Kanuga touts itself as a "rider built, rider approved" mountain Biking park. Mulally designed the trails and riders of all kinds have flocked to experience them. For now, most riders bring their own trail bikes.
"The riders out here were the most diverse group of riders I've ever seen, which is really cool," LaMond said. "We had a ton of kids. We had a lot of people that were intimidated by Biking, so they wanted to use an e-bike... and then use a green trail...We have everything from that to pro level riders who are doing the 50-foot jumps."
LaMond said his interest in mountain Biking started when he moved to the area 15 years ago to practice medicine.
He took up mountain Biking to stay active, and soon he began forming relationship with up-and-coming mountain bikers.
Before there were professional coaches and trainers in the area, LaMond said he was helping young riders with their training programs, often at no cost. Mulally was one of those riders, and LaMond said he helped several other athletes that are now competing at the professional level in World Cups.
Now many of those riders whom he helped develop are giving back their time by helping out with low-cost trail building labor.
LaMond provided funding for the trail system, and with Mulally and the help of several riders the two were able to develop the park at a lower cost than a fully contracted trail building company.
The bike park is leased from the camp and conference center on Kanuga property, and a portion of the profits from the lease go back into the camp and conference center nonprofit to sustain adult conferences and youth programming in association with the Episcopal Church.
LaMond said Kanuga is the oldest conservation easement in Henderson County and that sustainability is paramount with trail building to preserve the several native species and old growth trees on the land.
Mulally and LaMond have big plans for the future and are entertaining the idea of holding races on the property, providing youth development and co-llaborating with other businesses for special events.
Eventually, LaMond said there are plans to build an adventure center, with a pub area for a more formal gathering area.
For now, though, the park has had much more attention than the two had hoped for, seeing 300 riders on the opening weekend and having a steady flow of weekday visitors.
Prices for access to the park range from $29 for an adult day pass to $399 for an adult annual pass, with monthly prices available at $50.
Youth prices run from $19 for a day pass to $299 for an annual pass, and monthly passes costing $29. Rental bikes range from $59 a day to $119 a day for an e-bike, and the park also hosts a full-service bike shop.
The Kanuga conference center offers several types of lodging – from high-end hotel rooms to houses and cabin rentals and camping. Food and drinks, including beer and cider, are offered at the park's concession stand.
The park is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday to Sunday, but the trails are open 24/7 for members.
Passes and memberships can be purchased at http://www.ridekanuga.com.