By Joe Wiswell
There’s a buzz in the air out at the Rock Knob Mountain Bike Park nowadays. Just rolling into the parking lot you can feel the excitement people have for the riding out there. If you can weave your car through the dense afterwork crowds, you might find veteran local shredders, kids just beginning to turn their wheels to dirt, and riders from across the country, all stoked to be riding these great trails. Over the past few years Rocky Knob has become a hub for mountain biking in the region, and this summer it promises to expand its reputation as a destination for excellent mountain biking.
Since construction began on the park all the way back in 2009, volunteer and professional trail builders have built over 8 miles of multi-use singletrack (it’s open to hikers too). Recent additions have included an awesome pump-track, skills areas, a “Keendergarden” trail (built with a grant from Keen shoes) for easier mountain biking, and a revamped Pump, Berm, and Jump trail (AKA “PB&J”). Rocky Knob is also the home of one of the coolest playgrounds in Boone, with a jungle gym that attracts kids from miles around.
This summer will see the expansion of the park with a new black diamond downhill trail called Black Forest, and a public repair stand and pump in the parking lot. The new trail is a handbuilt, slow speed technical trail which winds its way all the way from the top of the park to the parking lot. Essentially, Black Forest will bring a new, back-country style of mountain biking to the otherwise screaming-fact descents at Rocky Knob.
There are a number of exciting upcoming events including the Bell Joy Ride on Friday, June 22 (a women-only group ride) the Sunday Funday mountain bike group ride, and the good old Dirty Thursdays trail building days. More details on these events are at the end of the article. Also, be on the lookout for updated trail maps, coming soon.
The history of Rocky Knob started back in 2008 when the Watauga County TDA realized that the mountain biking in the county did not measure-up to the world-class standards of other outdoor sports in the area, like rock climbing and hiking. This led to them partnering with the Boone Area Cyclists (BAC), a non-profit bike advocacy group, and starting Rocky Knob with two, $5,000 grants from Specialized Bicycles and the Bikes Belong Foundation.
Aided by another $500,000 grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF), the BAC and TDA bought what is now the parking lot and lower trails of Rocky Knob. This opened up the county-owned Rocky Knob proper, about 100 acres of land. With the remaining funds they got construction underway. From 2009 to 2013, 3,500 hours of volunteer labor, working in coordination with professional trailbuilders, built the main sections of the park. The park officially opened in 2013.
The only most recent information available on Rocky Knob’s local economic impact comes from all the way back in 2013, before the park really opened. That year, visitors to Rocky Knob contributed $2.8 million dollars to the local economy, and approximately 4 of every 10 visitors to the park came from out of town.
Since then little research has been done. When trail boss and local shredder Kristian Jackson was asked about this he responded that it is “definitely time for a new study.” However, he added anecdotally that he had “just met two guys from Colorado freaking out about how good the trails were.”
Hunter Budd, manager of Magic Cycles and a volunteer out at Rocky Knob, describes something similar, saying that when he first arrived in Boone back in 2010 the local mountain biking community was made up of a small group of hard-core riders. Since then, “its grown exponentially.” He says that Rocky Knob has become a destination for “riders of all skill levels and people from all over the country.”
Even just driving down King street, this growth is obvious. Sitting in his office at Magic Cycles, owner Mike Boone says “It’s hard not to notice all the mountain bikes on cars.” With a grin, he says he’s seen increased sales of mountain bikes.
If you’re looking for a chance to get out to Rocky Knob, you can rent mountain bikes from either of the bike shops in Boone: Magic Cycles and Boone Bike. You can find a list of the bikes below, or you can stop by the shops.
While Rocky Knob has been a big success, both in terms of dollars brought to the High Country and smiles put on mountain biker’s faces, more work remains to be done. Shaw Brown, co-owner of Boone Bike and Touring, pointed out that it remains difficult to ride to and from the park. He said, “I wish there was a greenway or bike lane to RKP, it seems silly to load bikes on cars only to ride at a bike park 2ish miles away.” He adds, though, that his customers always come back “with big smiles on their faces and speak highly of RKP.”
Making Boone’s mountain bike experience more holistic is an important goal for Rocky Knob. Kristian said that “the ultimate goal of the park is definitely to be connected,” and suggested that Rocky Knob is slowly working on some ways to do that. For now, however, the park is a quick drive from the center of Boone, just off US Highway 421 as you head out of town.
Bell Joy Ride–June 22 at 6:00pm
This ride describes itself as for “All women. All levels. All welcome.” It is a women only ride that seeks to provide a fun riding environment for women of all experience levels. This ride happens monthly in different places around western NC so be on the lookout for more! Information can be found at the “Bell Joy Ride – Boone, NC” Facebook page.
Sunday Funday RiDe–Every Sunday, leaving Magic Cycles at 4:30pm and Appalachian Mountain Brewery at 5:15pm
This is a new out-and-back group ride to Rocky Knob Park, for all skill levels.
Dirty Thursdays–Every Thursday at 6:00pm
Come out and help build and maintain trails you love! Dirty Thursday’s are Rocky Knob’s weekly trail work day. They have been going on since 2009 and have been invaluable to the construction of Rocky Knob.
Magic Cycles (http://magiccycles.com/):
Rocky Mountain Altitudes
Boone Bike (https://www.boonebike.com/):
Boone Bike’s rental fleet changes continually. Visit their website for their rental options.
Photos (Meat Camp Media House):