“I’m out there probably two, three times a week,” the east Cobb resident said.
Dusack looks forward to April 5, when the park’s Sope Creek unit will expand access to mountain bikers to 6.7 miles of trails from the current 2.1 miles.
The National Park Service spent much of 2012 working on existing hiking trails to expand them for use by bicyclists, said park Superintendent Patty Wissinger. A grant from the nonprofit National Park Foundation covered $70,000 of the trails’ $80,000 cost. The Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association contributed $5,000, with the National Park Service paying the other $5,000.
“The idea was to improve them so it would be better for both pedestrians and bicycle riders,” she said.
Since the National Park Service has traditionally been hesitant to allow mountain biking on its trails, the plan also meant getting federal approval. Wissinger said the closest National Park site to allow mountain biking is Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area on the Tennessee-Kentucky border.
While the change means hikers will have to share most of Sope Creek’s 10 miles of trails with mountain bikers, Dusack said it could actually be safer for many walkers. He said bicyclists now concentrate on the lone trail now open to them, which runs between Paper Mill Road and the Chattahoochee River.
“If you are walking that section, you might see the same cyclist four or five times,” he said. “Now, with it spread out, there are more places (for cyclists) to go.”
Still, Wissinger said trails could get crowded since more bicyclists could be attracted to Sope Creek, the only one of the Chattahoochee recreation area’s 15 units to allow off-road cycling.
According to the entry for the new trails in the Federal Register, the National Park Service received 205 responses during a public comment period last year, with all but one of them expressing “clear support” for the bicycle trails. The only comment showing concern came from a homeowner who wanted to see the trail made one-way in an uphill direction near their home, because of concerns about speeding bicyclists.
Wissinger said the mountain biking trails will use a system having cyclists ride clockwise on the trail loop on certain days, and counter-clockwise on others. They will advise hikers to walk in the opposite direction of the bicyclists for safety.
To help with the transition, Wissinger said 20 volunteers, wearing special jerseys, will be placed around the park.
“They’ll be out there every day, educating visitors on the rules of the trail,” she said.