Like many mountain biking enthusiasts, brothers Rhett and Will Warren will travel an hour or more – even several hours – to ride a trail. Their efforts to build a local trail will not only keep their outdoor endeavors close to home, but they believe attract thousands of riders, runners, walkers and hikers to Mineral Wells every year.
“People will come,” said Larry Colvin of the Weatherford Mountain Biking Club, who is helping the Warrens develop 4.35 miles of mountain biking trail on the 55 acres that make up Texas Frontier Trails’ Western Heritage Park on North Oak Avenue.
Colvin knows a little something about biking trails and their popularity. He and the Weatherford club developed and manage two trails in Parker County – Quanah Hill near Lake Weatherford and The Parks of Aledo Trail. They are two of 40 managed mountain biking trails in North Texas, including one at Possum Kingdom State Park.
Colvin, the Warrens and Wayne Pearson have been working in the TFT park, laying out the winding trail through a mostly heavily wooded area featuring Fossil Creek running through the middle of it and excellent topography including two high points rising 70-75 feet.
TFT in recent years constructed an amphitheater stage, improved the covered pavilion and created a historic walking trail. TFT has hosted a number of events there since leasing the city-owned park, formerly known as Pollard Park and Lion's Park, beginning in 2011.
As a design rule of thumb, Colvin said typically you construct one mile of bike trail for every 10 acres.
He said Western Heritage Park provides a beautiful and challenging setting for mountain bikers, saying it will be classified as an intermediate to upper-level trail, taking elite-level riders 20-23 minutes to complete and average riders as long as 45 minutes.
"You won't even realize there is another trail 35 or 40 feet away from you," Colvin said. "It might be 20 feet above you. It's really an ideal park in that it has a really nice piece of election on each side of the creek, which is the dominant feature of the park. There is one sustained climb with some technical elements. When I say technical elements, that means challenging."
He said there is an art to designing a mountain bike trial.
"We build the trail so that we can make gradual climbs up to the summit, then we can have a nice ride downhill to the next part," Colvin said. "There is some philosophy that goes into the design of the trail."
The trail will include a kiosk for riders, hikers and walkers informing them of the rules, what to expect and what to take along. There will be directional signage points built in so that people can shortcut their way back to the beginning, as well as some observation points.
Maps, walking the area and computer-aided design has helped them lay out the course, using the park's natural features to create the riding corridors – some fairly wide and some more narrow.
"The goal when you build a mountain bike trail is to disturb the earth as little as possible," Colvin said. "Once the corridor gets built, then you build what is called the track, and that is the actual trail on the ground. In some places it's as easy as just moving leaves and dead fall on the ground with a rake and it's a piece of cake. Then you have open areas like out here (around the pavilion and stage) with maintained grass, and that is a little more difficult. There are some things we can do to expedite building the trail."
The trail will cost about $45,000 to construct, said Rhett Warren, who has been busily raising the funds. No local public dollars will be used for the project, he said. Warren has raised $20,000 so far.
They hope to engage Paul "Shadow" Johns to professionally build the trails. Johns constructed The Parks at Aledo trails. That is if they can raise the necessary funds.
"I have to get to work raising more money," Warren said. "With COVID and everything going on, it may be a little harder to raise money right now so we may have to have some volunteer days out here and people who are going to be using the trail help build it so that we can cut our costs."
If Johns builds the trail, it could be completed as early as mid-June. If not, it might take till the end of the year, Warren said.
Colvin said he has applied for a $5,000 Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) grant for the project, and said there are monies for recreational trails programs in the economic stimulus package approved by Congress, provided typically through highway and gas tax funds.
"The program has been around for years," Colvin said. "There have been a lot of public trails and infrastructure made using that grant. I have used two grants before. We have a shovel-ready project.
We are optimistic and grateful there are opportunities out there for money. Nobody has said 'no.'"
For Warren the Western Heritage Park trails are one component of a bigger picture he has for Mineral Wells. In the future, the park's trail could extend south and connect with the Rails to Trails trailhead, giving riders access to the 22-mile trail that runs east through Mineral Wells, Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway (with its own biking trails) and then across Parker County to Cartwright Park in Weatherford.
Warren has established a Friends of Lake Mineral Wells State Park & Trailway non-profit group to accept donations for maintenance and development of that trail, which he believes presents an economic development opportunity for Mineral Wells.
"The plan would be lots of interconnectivity, taking it down to meet up with the existing Rails to Trails one of two ways, maybe adding a bike lane onto N.W. 4th Avenue that gets you down and then ties into the project that the city and Randy Nix are looking at along the canal, or you can follow that canal all the way up to almost N.W. 23rd Street, then you can follow it around to here," Warren said, which could include a bike along North Oak Avenue from N.W. 23rd Street north to the park.
The new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park near Strawn will also include mountain biking trails.
"There are different thoughts about that and people around town are talking about donating land for trails to be built on," Warren said. "Hopefully this is the first step of a bigger project. This is a small piece of the puzzle we hope progresses over time."
Colvin said there are examples of the popularity and economic impacts mountain biking trails can have on communities. He pointed to Northwest Arkansas' chain of trails as an example. A 2018 study showed biking injected $51 million in economic benefits to the region annually and another $86 million in health benefits. The study found 90,000-150,000 visited the region to ride the trails in the previous year, traveling rom Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Illinois and other states.
"There are examples all over the country, particularly in Arkansas, where a trail like this leads to other trails," said Colvin. "People will come. Studies show professionals want to move to communities that have these type of trails."
Unlike casual bike riders, mountain biking enthusiasts are typically educated professionals who are middle-aged with above-average household incomes and discretionary spending, since the equipment needed for mountain biking can run several thousand dollars.
"You don't have to a have a full-suspension bike to ride these trails, but it makes it easier on us old guys," Warren said.
Will Warren said he will drive to trails all around North Texas, and even to Central Texas, to ride.
"We know when the trail gets up and running on all cylinders 18 months from now it will be such a success that there will be people in this community who will want to get onboard with this project and will want to build more trails," Colvin said. "That's our goal. We want this to be catalyst for more trails. The motto is more trails closer to home."
He said another idea is creating a practice track children for children to learn riding on a safe, unpaved surface and introduce them to mountain bike riding.
"The other thing about these trails is they will be open for people who like to hike, and that typically attracts families," Colvin said.
Rhett Warren expressed thanks to the Texas Frontier Trails board and president Kirk Horton for embracing the idea of mountain bike trails in the park.
"There is a lot of potential here and we want to get going on it," Horton told city council in a briefing during its April 7 meeting.
City Manager Randy Criswell told council the city might want to consider installing amenities such as restrooms and trash receptacles at the park to accommodate regular and more frequent users.
To make a donation toward the Western Heritage Park mountain bike trail, send a check or money order to: Texas Frontier Trails, P.O. Box 306, Mineral Wells, TX 76067. Put bike trail in the memo line so that the donation will go toward the project.