Southwest Wake News

Wake County to make bike trails at Harris Lake park drier and more daring

The mountain-bike trails at Harris Lake County Park are often flooded for days after a storm. But a grant will pay for improvements that will help the trails dry faster after heavy rain – welcome news for riders such as Matt Coffey, above.
The mountain-bike trails at Harris Lake County Park are often flooded for days after a storm. But a grant will pay for improvements that will help the trails dry faster after heavy rain – welcome news for riders such as Matt Coffey, above.

The ups and downs of mountain-bike riding in the Triangle go beyond the topography, though the Hog Run Trails at Harris Lake County Park have some nice hills that let riders put a little air between them and the ground.

There’s also the excitement of looking forward to a weekend race or night ride, only to have it canceled because a passing storm has left water standing on the route, forcing the trails to close for days at a time.

“Your biggest enemy on trails is water,” said Tony D’Amico, assistant park manager at Harris Lake. Water is nature’s backhoe; it scours the earth, eroding hillsides and digging trenches. Riding a bike over a swampy spot on a trail only multiplies the effect.

So park officials and trail volunteers were happy to land a $92,835 grant this spring from the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program to repair, renovate and reroute bike trails at Harris Lake. The grant requires a 25 percent local match, which will come from about $10,000 in cash from the county’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space operating budget, along with nearly $13,000 worth of labor, most of it donated by off-road cyclists who use the trails.

Through its open-space program, Wake County has a long-term goal of preserving 30 percent of the county’s land in a natural form, such as forests, greenways, parks, meadows, fields, wetlands, floodplains and farms. The county values open space because it supports a clean water supply, fresh air, biological diversity and recreation, and it makes the county more attractive to potential residents and businesses.

The 680-acre Harris Lake that sits on a peninsula of Duke Energy Progress land bordering the Shearon Harris Reservoir in Hew Hill is the county’s second-most visited park, after Lake Crabtree. It offers picnicking, disc golf, a playground, environmental and cultural education programs, fishing, paddling, group camping, and trails for hiking and running.

But it’s the nearly 8 miles of dedicated mountain-bike trails that draw Andy Lohman, an IT specialist and longtime rider, to the park at least a couple of times a month to ride, and about once a month to work on the narrow winding paths through the woods.

“I like it because it keeps your mind fully engaged,” Lohman said of off-road riding.

Lohman demonstrated his skills recently, zipping between the trees at Harris Lake like a quiet, low-flying bird. He slipped along almost noiselessly, making quick turns to stay on the path and perching just above the saddle to allow his bike to skip over roots and rocks. On a downhill run, he emerged from the thicket and, in just a few seconds, was gone.

Lohman is a member of Triangle Off-Road Cyclists, a group of volunteer riders who work with the park systems of Wake, Durham and Orange counties to provide mountain bikers places to learn, practice and compete in their sport. Lohman coordinates the work on mountain-bike trails at Harris Lake.

TORC holds several events each year at the park, weather permitting. But often, weather forbids, as it did for this year’s Meltdown, a race originally set for March 8, rescheduled for March 22 and then canceled because of wet conditions.

The coming project should make it so the trails don’t have to be closed as often, or for as long, because of standing water.

Bikers at Harris Lake ride on a series of loops that make up the Hog Run Mountain Bike Trail, named for gullies that livestock made by trotting from their pen to the watering hole when the land was a working farm. Each loop is marked with a different color blaze and designed for a different skill level: beginner, intermediate or advanced.

The beginner trail is relatively flat with few obstacles. The advanced loop offers the longest ride and the most elevation changes, and includes log jumps. Riders on the trails can sometimes see the lake, and may also see deer, fox and eagles.

The park also includes a skills training area, with different jumps, narrow plank bridges and other challenges riders can try under somewhat controlled conditions.

Lohman and D’Amico say the grants will fund work to reroute the trails around sections that now channel water and cause erosion, and slope or avoid those that puddle even in a moderate rain. Sloped turns and man-made hills will be added in places to increase the variety of the ride. All together, the changes will extend the length of the trails to about 10 miles.

“You gotta make it sustainable, but interesting, too,” D’Amico said. “You want a few twists and turns to make it exciting.”

Doing the work requires a combination of machine and hand labor as well as materials such as gravel, sand and planking to build stream crossings. Some of the work will require outside help, which will be put out to bid.

The work will begin this year, and wrap up in 2015.