With fall in the air on Saturday morning, it was also a perfect time for the grand opening of the first section of the Wilkins Branch Mountain Bike Park.
The first-of-its-kind park in Williamson County sits along Wilkins Branch Road, off Old Hillsboro Road, and is open 8 a.m. to sunset daily, except when weather makes conditions dangerous.
The mountain bike park provides fun riding experiences for beginning to advanced riders. There is a perimeter loop, four downhill session lines and a beginner loop throughout the more than 4 miles of mountain bike experiences on 30 acres of hilly terrain.
“These trails are all single-track trails. They aren’t open to walkers,” said Rebecca Wynd, founder of Outdoor Encounter, a nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve green space, and organizer of the development of park.
This 30-acre section of the park represents the first phase of a master plan that will include more-challenging trails that will be built on a more rugged section of about 126 acres, according to County Mayor Rogers Anderson.
The park was made possible because of a land swap between the city of Franklin and Williamson County in 2007. In the exchange, the county gave up two former jails along Bridge Street and the Five Points Post Office for 280 acres known as the Springs property. That property, which was once the source of the city’s water, is located in the southwest section of the county. The land is divided by Interstate 840, with one section of 156 acres located along Wilkins Branch Road and the remaining acres accessed from Bending Chestnut Road.
“A group approached us about four or five years ago. They wanted to put a mountain bike trail here,” Anderson said.
The group was led by Wynd, who was already known for developing other local outdoor projects, including the Alexander Trail and Greenway in Thompson’s Station. She is also involved in work on a mountain bike trail in the Cool Springs Middleburg community of Franklin.
“Her vision pushed us in a new direction as we tried to find a good use for terrain not suited to much more than what they’re doing,” Anderson said.
Outdoor Encounter organized and developed the mountain bike trail park and the Williamson County Parks & Recreation Department will maintain it.
“We started the project in 2016,” Wynd said. “It’s exciting to be here today. Riders will have no clue what it took to get the park to this point.”
Most every Sunday during the past 18 months — a total of more than 70 actual work days — more than 200 volunteers put in about 5,000 hours clearing out garbage, vines, small trees and thick brush. With guidance and design plans provided by professionals from the International Mountain Bike Association and Barry Smith Trail Builders, the volunteers developed trails with an array of challenges.
“Some came once, others as much as their schedule allowed. A handful were here almost every workday,” Wynd said.
She said that they removed 35 tires and three dumpster loads of trash, battled thorn bushes, poison ivy, ticks and endured “5 million” chigger bites, summer heat and winter cold.
“We couldn’t have done it without all the volunteers,” Wynd said.
With help from Franklin Synergy Bank, Magli Realty, DesignStudio and others, they were able to rent or purchase the tools needed to get the job done.
Two Eagle Scouts used the park for their Eagle Scout project. Mason Skeeters, from Troop 31, developed a 35-foot step-down and Sam Wuller, from Troop 130, created a bike-specific bridge over a low section of wetland.
“None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Williamson County Parks & Rec,” Wynd said. “They’ve been a great partner, open to new ideas and willing to be educated in new areas that stretched them. There’s a lot of room to grow here and make this park all it can be.”
Wynd and the volunteers are excited to see to the completion the second phase, named the Gravity Phase. It will include four downhill jumping lines already designed by International Mountain Bike Association professionals and funded by an IMBA accelerator grant.
The group is seeking donations and sponsors to complete this phase. For more information about the project, volunteer opportunities, sponsorship or to make a donation, email Wynd at firstname.lastname@example.org.