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Ground broken for AV bike park
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Ground broken for AV bike park

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About 80 people attended a groundbreaking for the Shepherd Mountain Bike Park on Friday at the base of Shepherd Mountain in Ironton.

Community leaders are hoping Shepherd Mountain, located in Iron County’s Arcadia Valley, will become a premier attraction for mountain bikers from across the United States. Last month, Ironton Mayor Robert Lourwood announced that Iron County Economic Partnership (ICEP) had agreed to fund phase one of the Shepherd Mountain Bike Park at a cost of half of a million dollars.

Jagged Axe Trail Designs, a renowned Arkansas-based bike trail developer, has been tasked with building five gravity (downhill) bike trails, one easy (green) trail, two medium (blue) trails, and two difficult (black) trails.

Prior to the groundbreaking ceremony, the crowd heard Mayor Lourwood, Chuck Correll, Arcadia Valley Tourism Committee chairman and owner of the Fort Davidson Cafe in Pilot Knob; and Connie Reed, ICEP’s administrative director.

Kicking off the ceremony, Mayor Lourwood said, “I just want to welcome everybody to this kind of historic event. You know, this is really something that we are extremely excited about here in Arcadia Valley — the Shepherd Mountain Bike Park. We are beginning this week building trails and by next spring we’ll have trails built that people will be able to ride.

"It’s pretty amazing. It’s going to happen pretty quick, but it’s going to happen right. We’ve hired Jagged Axe Trail [Designs] that are going to build the trails for us. We also have some volunteer trails that we’re building. It’s going to be very exciting.”

AV Tourism Committee Chairman Correll said, “Welcome to what will soon be Shepherd Mountain Bike Park. It won’t be long. Actually, I didn’t know we were getting all the equipment stuff, so this is much nicer — much more stuff than I anticipated. This is awesome. We’re kind of low key today, but I promise — and I know Bob supports this — next spring we’re going to have a party. When we have the grand opening, it’s going to be a nice event, and we’re going to have people from all over the country, I think, attending to see what’s happening with the park.”

After listing several local committees and boards he sits on, Correll said, “In my spare time, I own and operate Ft. Davidson Café over in Pilot Knob. So, my wife and I have been down here for about 18 years. We’ve been business owners for going on four years now, so we’re pretty vested in the Valley. Actually, my wife’s family goes back pre-Civil War down here, so she’s got even deeper ties. We’re glad to be a part of all this.

“It’s our 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 Elephant Rocks, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk Mountain … maybe float some rivers down in Annapolis or Lesterville.

"It’s also believed that new attractions will come to the area, as well as investors. We believe that the possibilities are almost endless. I think at some point our main objective will be to decide as a community how big we want to be. We don’t want it to get crazy, right? But we are definitely in need of economic growth and development in the area. So, we’re excited. We think this is going to bring that.”

Closing out the ceremony, ICEP’s Reed said, “In February of this year, ICEP was presented with the mountain bike project idea. There were a lot of people who came to the courthouse to show their support and it didn’t go unnoticed. ICEP stepped in and met again in March with the city of Ironton and DGI more one-on-one. Then the COVID pandemic affected our nation and affected everything. ICEP stepped in and went into a protection mode.

“ICEP decided that what was best for the county was to offer a $1,000 grant to the small businesses of Iron County and then to give even more, ICEP awarded the city of Ironton a grant of $500,000 to build a premier mountain bike park. Not only for Iron County to grow economically, but to also help support the southeast Missouri region. During the next few months, Jagged Axe will transform Shepherd Mountain into a premier mountain bike park.”

The city of Ironton, which owns about 800 acres on the mountain, has already started planning for additional phases of the bike park and have started corresponding with event coordinators to hold camps, retreats, and races at the bike park.

According to Lourwood, once the trails have been completed, the city intends to build a shuttle trail to transport mountain bikers and their bicycles to the peak of Shepherd Mountain. The cyclists will be able to choose from any of the five trails to ride down the mountain. Gateway Off-Road Cyclists is also planning to put in a climbing trail for cyclists who want to get to the peak without riding in a shuttle.

The city also has plans to build a pavilion, complete with restrooms, at the base of Shepherd Mountain near the existing hiking trailhead. The shuttle trail and climbing trail will start in this area. All the gravity trails will finish near the pavilion.

Additionally, Lourwood has announced that the city intends to construct a building with parking in the commercial district, allowing cyclists to park their vehicles, buy a shuttle ticket, and ride a shuttle from the commercial district to Shepherd Mountain. Connector trails that cyclists can use when returning from the gravity trails are also planned.

Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or kjenkins@farmingtonpressonline.com

“It’s our 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. – Chuck Correll, Arcadia Valley Tourism Committee chairman

Chuck Correll on tourism advantage of mountain bike trail
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