There are just over 300 mountain bike trails in Georgia – none of which are in a 20-mile radius of Commerce. But this summer, that will change, as Commerce residents will be able to put their tires to trails in their own back yard.
Nearly every week, a dozen or more volunteers work to create and maintain approximately five miles of trail, which will be the defining feature of Commerce’s new city park, located off Smallwood Drive near Waterworks Road.
Rumblings for the plan came up more than years ago at City Hall, but without someone to lead the project, it was shelved time after time. But when Lee Fox opened up his bike shop, State Street Bicycles, in Commerce in December, 2014, it didn’t take long for city officials to realize they had found their ringer.
Fox, a life-long cyclist, spent most of his career managing bicycle shops in southeast Florida. As his company grew, so did his workload. He eventually sold his family business before relocating to Northeast Georgia and opening a smaller storefront – focusing on mostly online sales.
Commerce Mayor Clark Hill approached Fox shortly after his shop opened to gauge his interest in the city’s plans for a park.
“It’s been a project that has been on and off the table for a couple of years, and I think it was just a matter of trying to find someone who would go in and spearhead the operation and make it happen,” said Fox. “Once they brought it to my attention – that was it. I had done projects like this in the past and I wasn’t going to let up until we got moving on it.”
Fox made the final decision on the park easy for the Commerce City Council. While some private companies charge cities a per-foot price to mapping, Lee offered to map and maintain the park’s trail on a volunteer basis.
It wasn’t long before support for the project began to swell throughout the community.
“There’s been a lot of interest,” said Fox. “There’s a lot of people in Commerce that are cyclists that either ride on-road or off-road. But a lot of people don’t realize that because there’s nothing to really bring all these people together.”
With the opening of State Street Bicycles and prospect of a new park this summer, Commerce’s cycling community is becoming more and more visible, and it’s growing.
“Since I’ve opened the store here in town, it’s brought a lot of those people together,” said Fox. “I’ve had a lot of people calling me, asking if this trail is really going to happen. I’ve been really excited about the amount of interest in it. Everybody – whether it’s in my store, or at a community event – everybody’s been extremely excited about the possibility of the different events we can hold at the park – besides just the trail.”
Several locals signed up as volunteers and have worked the past year to create the narrow, single-track trails and maintain them. Fox and his volunteers sometimes physically cut and rake the trails by hand, and build bridges over creeks and streams. Fox said he and the volunteers take special care to conserve the pristine nature and wilderness of the property.
“We try not to cut down any trees or anything like that,” he said. “We want to be able to work within the landscape and what is given to us there. We want to preserve that natural beauty.”
For the most part, maintenance can be as simple as keeping traffic on the trails. That’s why Fox and other cyclists partake in weekly group rides on the trails on Wednesday evenings.
When planning the trail, Fox wanted to create something accessible to cyclists of all skill levels. The trails will be subdivided and labeled with distance markers, as some will prove more challenging than others.
“We wanted to make sure it was really user-friendly, where the average person could get a bike and go out there and ride it,” said Fox. “You want it to be kind of difficult to attract more avid, hardcore mountain bikers. But you also want it to be accessible for beginners. And I’m all about getting the kids into it.”
While the mountain bike trail is the defining feature of Commerce’s prospective new Park, Lee is quick to point out that the 54-acre site has much more to offer than just trails and thrills.
“This isn’t just for mountain bikers alone,” added lee. “It will be a multi-use trail. You’ll be able to come out and hike on it. There’s a big beautiful open field and I think it’s going to be a great park for the community – something much needed here in Commerce.”
The wooded property includes a small pond and several open areas – potential locations for picnic tables or gazebos. Fox said there are other potential ideas in the works for adult and children’s activities at the park such as a pump track – a small looping dirt track with hills, where cyclists can use their momentum to propel themselves rather than their pedals.
While there are no guarantees, Fox generally expects the park to be open to the public no later that mid-August. The city is currently constructing a parking lot near the entrance of the park, while some of the trails are still being broken in. Fox believes if the work continues at a brisk pace, the park could be open as early as July.