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Mountain Biking in Leland? It’s Here, Thanks to Cape Fear SORBA

Mountain biking brings to mind scenarios like thick, rubber tires crawling over rocky terrain, long-range ridgeline views and tricky transverses through hardwood forests. A flat, coastal area like Leland just doesn’t make that list. But a group of Cape Fear mountain bikers think that it should.

That group, Cape Fear SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association), is a chapter of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA). The group has been meeting since 2009, but recently, with the establishment of Brunswick Nature Park in Brunswick County, it has been picking up its pace.

Brunswick Nature Park is on River Road (N.C. 133) just a few miles south of Leland and its presence here is due to the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, a Wilmington-based nonprofit organization that is dedicated to enriching coastal communities through the acquisition of open space and natural areas. The Coastal Land Trust acquired 912 acres of land in Brunswick County with the intent of giving the land to Brunswick County in order to create a public nature park.

“At the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust we work to set aside land for conservation,” says Camilla Herlevich, executive director of the Coastal Land Trust. “In doing so we are also able to provide the general public some really unique places to share and experience with their friends and family. Our hope is that Brunswick Nature Park will be enjoyed in a similar fashion to other places we’ve helped to save, such as our own Springer’s Point Preserve at the Outer Banks or New Hanover County’s Airlie Gardens.”

When the land was in the hands of Brunswick County, the members of Cape Fear SORBA approached the county staff and worked out an arrangement in which the club would build and maintain biking trails through the park for the club members as well as the general public to enjoy.

Many of the members of SORBA had previous experience working on the trails at Blue Clay Road in Wilmington. They pledged to Brunswick County that the trails and any manmade structures on them would be built according to IMBA standards.

At present, SORBA has built more than 6 miles of biking trails through Brunswick Nature Park. According to Cape Fear SORBA President Greg Brinson, mountain bikers are coming from places like Myrtle Beach, Charleston and New Bern to ride in Brunswick Nature Park.

“[Mountain biking] has just gotten tremendously popular around here,” says Brinson. “A lot of people first get involved because they are looking for a way to stay in shape.”

Don Brown was one such member.

“It was like a bug that just bit me, and I got really into it … I’ve lost about 40 pounds,” says Brown.

Several groups of outdoor sports enthusiasts such as mountain bikers, horseback riders and hikers are working together through Brunswick County Parks and Recreation to build and maintain the park. The county is able to provide equipment and personnel to help with things like heavy clearing and has also been able to secure some grant money to assist these groups in their work on the park.

“SORBA was the first group that we started working with at the park, and they’ve been great to work with,” says Jim Pryor, director of Parks and Recreation for Brunswick County. “It’s been really interesting. You don’t see many parks built like this … but it has been really exciting. Every time you go out to the park there’s something new.”

SORBA organizes teams of volunteers into “trail crews” that go out through the biking trails at places like Brunswick Nature Park and maintain the trails. They cut back vegetation, remove dangerous items from the trail and ensure that the trail is in good condition.

“In order to make the trails at the park challenging, we made them tight and very ‘twisty turny,’” says Brinson. “We are also putting in some advanced terrain on the trails. For example, we have plans to build some rock gardens out there, which is something you don’t see in our area.”

SORBA routinely holds group rides, off-road races and time trials, but this year they have planned something completely different. On October 13 and 14, 2012, Cape Fear SORBA and the Brunswick Nature Park will be hosting the first Brunswick MTB Festival. The festival is intended to bring together mountain biking enthusiasts and their families from various parts of the Carolinas to experience the trails that have been created in Leland.

By design, the club planned the Brunswick MTB Festival on the same weekend that the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust holds its annual Family Fun Day, which will take place on Saturday, October 12 at Brunswick Nature Park. This event includes activities for people of all ages (but focused mainly on kids) and introduces participants to outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking nature trails. On that same Saturday, members of Cape Fear SORBA will be on hand at Brunswick Nature Park to conduct guided group rides, bicycle maintenance clinics and skills clinics, which are also focused on younger riders.

On Sunday, October 14 the main event takes place. Central to this festival is a six-hour endurance bike race. The goal is to complete as many laps on the course as possible within a six-hour period. In this race, participants can either choose to compete on their own or in two-man teams. Time is kept via computer chips.

For the individuals, the rules are simple: Get on your bike and ride your hardest for six hours. By the end of six hours, the rider with the most laps wins (at the 5.5-hour mark the riders who have passed the starting line are permitted to complete the next lap, and the first to cross the finish line is the winner). But the two-man teams can choose how to manage their race. They can change riders as many times as they want. The different teams determine the frequency at which they trade off. However, each time a rider change is made the band containing the timing chip must be transferred between the riders.

As the club does intend for its event to be open to mountain bikers of all skill levels, there is also a three-hour option. Mountain bikers who choose this option still participate on the same course and start at the same time.

Whether you ride in the MTB Festival race or not, the bike trails at Brunswick Nature Park are worth discovering. These trails are changing the way mountain bikers view their sport – and Leland.

Want to Join Cape Fear SORBA?

The members of Cape Fear SORBA meet at 6 pm on the second Thursday of every month at Which Wich, a sandwich shop in Mayfaire Towncenter. Full details on the group and its events are available through the club’s website,
http://blog.capefearsorba.com.

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