Approximately 80 people gathered Friday at noon for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Shepherd Mountain Bike Park
“Now, we’re not really big on ceremony today. I hope you’ll forgive us, but we chose to put all of our money into the park! However, I’ve been promised that the Grand Opening next year will be a party!” said Chuck Correll, a member of the AV Chamber of Commerce Board, the Chamber Tourism Committee, and a contributing member of Valley Growth Initiative. “It is the belief that Shepherd Mountain Bike Park will not only attract mountain bikers from all over the country, but that it will bring much needed attention to the numerous other tourism related attractions that the region already possesses. Through mountain biking, we believe more people will come to the area to spend their tourism dollars visiting other attractions such as Elephant Rocks, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk Mountain, or maybe float the river down in Annapolis or Lesterville.
“It is also believed that new attractions will come to the area, that investors will The possibilities for the region are almost endless. If what has happened in other parks happens to us, we may see a significant influx of people that want to move to our area to be part of the lifestyle that mountain biking and outdoor activities represent.”
As part of this, Arcadia Valley Chamber of Commerce hopes that they can work with other cities within the region to begin looking at tourism and economic growth from a regional perspective.
“We believe this park will create a economic jumpstart that is large enough that we’ll all want to work together to take it to the next level,” saidCorrell. “That’s the 50,000 foot view. Let’s bring it back down to earth and talk about this specific project. This initiative is a testament to what can result from two people chatting at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. We had a Chamber Luncheon at my restaurant early last year. One of the speakers at the luncheon sat at the same table as one our Chamber Members for lunch. They started chatting, which we encourage folks to do at these meetings. So, all of this started by someone making a simple inquiry.”
The idea was brought to the Ironton City Council. They thought it was a good idea. Mayor Bob Lourwood formed an exploratory group to see if there anything to the mountain biking idea.
To seriously look into it, Mayor Lourwood formed a group called Valley Growth Initiative, which was made up of several local civic leaders, business owners and government officials. VGI did the legwork to get the project to the point of being seriously considered. Members of the VGI are: Joe Branstetter, the Erpenbach clan – Jim, Toni, Todd and Todd’s wife, Alison, Nathan Williams, Bryan Beard, David Dahlke, John Tevis, and Klint Silvey and Dave Shulz from Gateway Off Road Cycling.
“Now, once we did the hard work of gathering data and creating a business case, we needed official permission to use Shepherd Mountain for this project. We needed a vote from the Ironton Board of Aldermen for approval and we received it.” Correll said. “ Now, it’s worth saying that although the mountain is owned by the city of Ironton, they ultimately agreed to share it with all of us without asking for anything from the region but support. They’re shouldering some of the cost to develop and operate the park, even though the entire region will benefit from it. So, I’d like to thank Mayor Lourwood, who lead the charge, and the Board of Aldermen members: James “Bo” Layton, Don Barzowski, Russell Allen, and Zach Tedford.”
Once the city of Ironton agreed to share the mountain, there was one remaining challenge. How to pay for it?
“And believe me, that was no small hill to climb,” Correll said. “We knew it would be expensive and securing funding was going to be a challenge. However, we knew a guy that knew some other guys, that knew some girls. Once we created the business case, our friends at Iron County Economic Partnership agreed to take a look at it and seriously consider the project. They asked some very tough questions and did
their due diligence, and after several months of evaluation they agreed to fund Phase I of the project. We’re all very thankful for that. We’d like to personally thank ICEP Board Members: Bryan Matt, Gary Lotz, September Bennett, and Mike Mayberry. We’d like to thank them for recognizing a great economic development project and agreeing to fund it. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ardent support and guidance of Michael Randazzo, ICEP’s legal counsel, Brian Parker, former ICEP board member and current advisor and Connie Reed, ICEP Director. Dave Elkan of Snowmass Village, Colorado attended one of our VGI meetings earlier this year and provided some information that caused us to completely change our original direction, for the better. He has continued to provide us invaluable guidance as we navigate through the project. Dave has already done what we’re about to do, but he did it in a very wealthy ski village in Colorado. He is helping us avoid mistakes he made and giving us a formula for a successful implementation if we choose to follow it.
Axe Trail Design is building the Bike Park. Alex Scott, owner of Jagged Axe, has been building trails since he was a kid. He has a talent for visualizing and building trails that mountain bikers want to ride. Riders will come to Shepherd Mountain just because the trails were built by Jagged Axe.
“We all knew we had something at Shepherd Mountain when professional trail riders and builders were getting ‘all giddy’ about it,” Carroll said. “When they first looked at the mountain, it was like talking to kids that just saw a candy store for the first time. When grown men showed us the unbridled excitement of a six-year-old that just got their first bike for Christmas, we knew we had something here.
“Numerous mountain biking aficionados, who’ve ridden some of the top trails in the country, and in some cases the world, have said that Shepherd Mountain has the potential to become one of the premier mountain bike parks in the Midwest, if not the entire country. Why is that? For starters, we have over 800 acres to work with. That’s a pretty big playground. This mountain has a 600’ base to peak elevation, which will be one of the highest park elevations in the Midwest. The park will have many, many natural granite features, created billions of years ago when this area had three active volcanoes.
The Shepherd Mountain park will have year-round riding. Many parks are closed several months of the year due to cold weather. Numerous amenities exist within a short drive from the park, such as hotels, camp grounds, RV Parks, excellent restaurants, shopping and more. Most of those are within five minutes of the park. There’s lots to do when not biking: fishing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, historic sites, shopping, a 9-hole golf course and a newly installed disc golf course. The Arcadia Valley area even has geologic formations that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.
“In Phase 1, we’re installing five professionally built trails,” Correll said. “One green, which is simpler, a blue technical and a blue flow trail, and finally, two black trails. A pavilion and restrooms will be built at the mountain. We’ll be one of few parks with those amenities this close to the trails. Riders will park and buy lift tickets in the city of Ironton. They will be shuttled from there to the park within five minutes. We’ll have a gradually sloping climbing trail to the top of the mountain or bikers will be able to ride to the top in a military Hummer, which will be equipped with a bike trailer. At the end of the day, bikers will be able to ride their bike to a local restaurant, retail shop or tourism spot straight off the mountain. All of them are within ten minutes of the park.
“In future phases, we hope to expand the park to include a Skills Park at the mountain. On the opposite side of the mountain is Shepherd Mountain Lake. The land is there to build RV, camping and cabin sites near the lake. In addition, miles of moderately graded bike trails can be added for more casual riding. When done for the day, you’ll be able to ride down to the lake to fish, swim or canoe. We’ll also have rental bikes for those that happen to be down here but don’t have their bikes with them. Lastly, if you live anywhere between Chicago and San Antonio, you’ll be able to take Amtrak to Arcadia Valley. With two stops per day, you can leave the train station and be at the Mountain Bike Center within five minutes, on your bike. The train also stops in St. Louis, so you can stay over for a day and watch the Cardinals play before heading off to ride at the park.”
The plan is to have a Spring 2021 Grand Opening. That weekend will be a party. Correll said that the group plans to have some fantastic bands playing at the courthouse square, along with lots of entertainment for the kids.
For those seeking additional information, please visit http://visitarcadiavalley.info. Part of this website will be dedicated to the park, and it will expand as they have more information to share.