One City’s Journey: Assessment to Construction
Pisgah National Forest is a massive swath of land contained entirely within the state of North Carolina.
It comprises over 500,000 acres of mountainous terrain, with a higher concentration of mile-high peaks than anywhere else east of the Rockies. The forest certainly covers a large territory, and within its boundaries, you'll find nearly 50,000 acres of old-growth forest, who knows how many waterfalls, peace, quiet, and of course, thousands of miles of mind-blowing trails.
Beautifully cradled by the Blue Ridge Mountains at 3,300 feet above sea level is the college town of Boone, North Carolina. Home to Appalachian State University, the community of 18,000 serves as the seat for Watauga County and is the economic centerpiece for North Carolina's "high country", which is the region furthest north and west in the state, and features some of its highest peaks. The college provides Boone with much of its cultural energy, and throughout the town, you'll find several craft coffee roasters, breweries, a surprisingly diverse array of dining options, and plenty of foot and bicycle traffic throughout.
Along the eastern edge of the city limits you'll find Rocky Knob Park, and to the north is Howard's Knob Park, a municipal park perched about 1,000 feet above downtown. South of Boone is the gateway to Pisgah. It’s a community whose identity is intrinsically connected to the mountains that surround it, and it’s full of people who value their time for recreation and exploration more than most. They have worked hard to build trust with various land managers in a part of the world where trust doesn’t come easy, and the hard work has paid off in the form of access to some of the very best trails on either side of the country.
If you were to start up a conversation with any number of local riders, there’s an extremely high likelihood that Kristian Jackson’s name would eventually make its way into the conversation. Born in Illinois, Kristian and his family moved to Raleigh when he was 16. He would eventually find his way to the mountains and decided that he would make it a point to never leave them, which led to his eventual move to Brevard in order to work at the Outward Bound school in 2000. By 2005, Kristian and his wife had built a house in Boone and began building their family.
Kristian is a senior lecturer at Appalachian State University in recreational management and physical education. He’s a level 4 coach and level 3 trainer for the Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association. He’s the trail stewardship director for the non-profit Boone Area Cyclists. He’s a podcast host, a Specialized Soil Searching ambassador, and he’s been profoundly instrumental in some of the unprecedented trail development happening within the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, otherwise known as Wilson Creek.
“One of the things as a rider I like to think about is a trail that doesn’t give everything away on the first ride,” Kristian says as we catch our breath midway through a Wilson Creek ride. “That trail is going to continue to be fun for the rider. Having to piece it together and examine things a bit more that’s where the real rewards are. You can’t just rip it the first time and ride it exactly the way you want to. You have to go back and look at how it all links together. I think that builders who are consciously putting that into their trails are seeing a lot of success.”
Kristian and others within the Boone community have not only mastered the art of exquisite trail building; they’ve mastered the art of building community through trails. 20 years ago there were no legal trails to ride within 45 minutes of downtown, and now Boone has a bike park on the eastern perimeter of the community as well as access to world-class backcountry in Wilson’s Creek just south of the city. The U.S. Forest Service now looks to mountain bikers as a key cog to the well being of the trails within the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah, and that’s in no small part due to the approach to trail building and advocacy employed by Kristian and others.
“One of the things I feel more trail communities need to understand,” he tells me before we drop in on a descent down Schoolhouse, “is that when you have people like Lisa Jennings (USFS) and Paul Stahlschmidt (NWNCMBA), among others, they have skill sets that are complementary and it’s been important to figure out how to let individuals do things that they are good at and excited about. That allows them to work together and create the whole. Somebody’s gotta get excited about maps. Someone else needs to get excited about meetings. Someone else needs to get excited about sharpening tools and getting them to a site. It’s a huge collaborative effort, and the best trail communities are the ones who have gotten everyone on the proverbial bus and have figured out where everyone is sitting.”