The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Forward momentum: Growing mountain bike festival features Knoxville trails and ales this weekend

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 DSC3094The Whip Contest, set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Drop Inn, is a perennial crowd favorite at the annual Appalachian Mountain Bike Club Fall Festival. Courtesy AMBC

With food trucks, demos and contests, this year’s family-friendly bike festival is ready to roll. And they haven’t forgotten about the Vols.

KNOXVILLE — There’s a different kind of homecoming set for this weekend. It doesn’t feature football, but it still involves wheel routes. It’s a celebration of the city’s unique outdoor recreational offerings in an urban center.

The Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, a 650-member posse devoted to the acquisition, maintenance and marketing of regional mountain bike trails for multiple uses, hosts its 13th FREE annual fall festival Nov. 4-6, centered around Baker Creek Preserve and the rest of the Urban Wilderness.

The weekend features food, beer, mountain-bike demonstrations, timed and guided rides, raffles, races and movies and music. The 13th annual installment of the popular festival also includes an opportunity for women who want to learn about mountain biking in a supportive, nonjudgmental environment. Organizers welcome children, families and any others who want to learn about mountain biking or the recreational offerings available throughout the city, county and region.

Appalachian Mountain Bike Club Director Matthew Kellogg expects more than 2,500 people to attend this year, given the residual pent-ups from the Covid-19 disaster. Many of those people once lived in and around Knoxville, so “it’s kind of a homecoming,” he said. Riders and enthusiasts are expected from 25 states, from Florida to Vermont and Utah.

“It’s a great way to showcase what we have in our backyard,” Kellogg said.

“This is the busiest weekend on the trail, which we monitor regularly.

“We are one of the few communities in the country to have such access to trails,” he said, while noting 96 percent of trails maintained by the club in the area are mixed use. “I walk on trails just as often as I ride on them,” he said of the trails that thread the Urban Wilderness, highlighted last year by Hellbender Press. Trail development and maintenance is supported by neighborhood groups, hikers, runners and business groups, including Old Sevier Avenue Merchants. The annual festival serves as AMBC’s largest fundraiser, providing “plenty of opportunities to invest in your local trail network,” Kellogg said.

A regular crowdpleaser is the Whip Contest, featuring big-air bike maneuvering and set to return to Drop Inn for the second year.

The economic impact of the festival and the entirety of the Urban Wilderness is still largely anecdotal, but an updated, comprehensive report is expected soon from the University of Tennessee Baker Center for Public Policy, Kellogg said.

“In 2015, University of Tennessee economics professor Charles Sims wrote a white paper projecting that if the Urban Wilderness grew to a national destination, it could have an economic impact of more than $29 million annually,” Hellbender Press reported last year.

A variety of food trucks and beer vendors will be on site for the duration of this weekend’s festival, and families with children are welcome. It’s a great opportunity to introduce kids to the challenges, joys and bruises of mountain biking. And it’s a fun way to celebrate Knoxville’s growing reputation as an outdoor-recreation destination, Kellogg said.

And, back to football, organizers have repeatedly reminded people that the epic Tennessee-Georgia showdown will be widely displayed on screens and available via radio throughout the festival grounds.  

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