PA Wilds: Mountain bike course debuts in PA’s only National Forest

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In September, the ribbon was cut on the first loop of the Trails at Jakes Rocks outside of Warren, a new trail system that has the potential to become a major attraction. Nearly 400 people came to the all-day grand opening, marking the culmination of nearly a decade of planning from over a dozen partners. 

The trails were the brainchild of Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways and grew into a collaboration between the Allegheny National Forest (ANF) and the Warren County Chamber of Business & Industry

dsc_8043The project has also been supported by University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, Clarion University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Northern Alleghenies Mountain Bike Association (NAMBA), International Mountain Bicycling Association, PennSoil RC&D, the Pennsylvania Wilds, Appalachian Regional Commission, Northwest Regional Planning & Development Commission and the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

All of the partners agree that the project wouldn’t exist without the group’s dedication, cooperation and unique skill sets. 

“The thing that was really remarkable was the work this community group did,” says Rich Hatfield of the ANF. “Before, the model for the Forest Service was that we would come up with the ideas and develop recreation. This was a totally different model. The community got the idea and is taking the lead to raise the funds and move it forward.” 

The professionally designed, single-track mountain bike course is built of stacked loops winding through the rocky and rugged terrain that defines this part of the Pennsylvania Wilds.

According to Andy Georgakis, a 25-year mountain biking veteran and member of NAMBA, Jakes Rocks is unique because it gives those young and old who are new to the sport an optimized mountain biking trail to explore. 

image1-3“This technique provides a riding experience where mountain bikers of all skill levels will enjoy the trail,” he explains. “There are tremendous opportunities to see the terrain and scenery that is breathtaking around the Kinzua region.”

Aside from its natural beauty, the area holds historical significance: One of the largest dams in the United States east of the Mississippi was built here after a treaty between George Washington and the Native Americans (the Pickering Treaty) was broken. The moment in history was memorialized in the Johnny Cash song, “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow.”   

Not being mountain bikers, we went to the mountain bikers to ask what they wanted. Joe Colosimo, Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways

NAMBA was crucial in providing input into what mountain bikers need because some of the locals who identified the economic opportunity — like Joe Colosimo of Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways — didn’t even own a bike. 

“Not being mountain bikers, we went to the mountain bikers to ask what they wanted,” recalls Colosimo. “We took it to heart and we built it that way. We’re involved because we see an opportunity and we want the story to be told.” 

dsc_8133With the first phase complete, partners aren’t looking to downshift anytime soon. In total, 46 miles of trail are proposed for the Jakes Rocks recreation area. The hope is that the next 36 miles will be completed in two stages over the next two years, with the goal of building trails that cater to intermediate and advanced riders. 

“They really wanted to get bikers up there to start building the momentum,” says Dave Sherman of the Warren County Visitors Bureau. “The reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive. I was up there for the grand opening a few weeks ago and there were bikers from North Carolina, New England, Colorado and Wisconsin. Good news travels fast.”

The first 10 miles cost $310,000, which was split between local, state and federal sources. The next segment of the project is projected to cost $1.4 million and to have a similar funding structure. 

The investment is already paying off. 

According to Jim Decker of the Warren Chamber, the Warren Cycle Shop has started to offer rentals. Looking forward, he foresees endless potential for economic growth, from local restaurants selling boxed lunches at the trailhead, to more breweries opening up, to shops expanding to offer more bike-centric gear.  

dsc_8055While some might see mountain bikers as a niche market, the demographics are the right ones. Riders tend to be young people with disposable income who are willing to travel, stay and spend. (The trails are also open to hikers and runners.)

The partners estimate that the trails will draw 10,000 visitors and generate about $1.5 million in new revenue. Similar trails, which have served as an economic blueprint for Jakes Rocks, have garnered between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors per year and, once established, led to over $4 million in revenue. 

Currently, the project has only been promoted through word of mouth and social media (Facebook: @thetrailsatjakesrocks). A marketing plan — which will likely be in place by next year and feature advertisements in biking publications as well as signage — will only spur more growth. 

image1-4“When you go off the trail there’s no place to eat or grab a Coke unless you go to Warren 15 minutes down the road, Bradford 30 miles down the road, or Kane 20 minutes down the road,” explains Sherman. “There is no commercial development up there. In my opinion that is a flaw and an opportunity. The million dollar question is, what is it going to spur?”

While the future remains unclear, one thing is certain: The trails aren’t just a win for Warren but for the whole region.

I was up there for the grand opening a few weeks ago and there were bikers from North Carolina, New England, Colorado and Wisconsin. Good news travels fast. Dave Sherman, Warren County Visitors Bureau

“The Trails at Jakes Rocks are a great attraction now, but when completed, they will be one of our star attractions here in the Pennsylvania Wilds,” insists Tataboline Enos of the PA Wilds Center, a regional nonprofit whose mission is to grow nature tourism in the region. “It will be a world-class course.”

“The volunteers at the heart of this project are a great example of how communities can spearhead projects like this with public lands managers,” she adds. “When you come from a region with two million acres of public land — where many communities are trying to build nature tourism — that’s a useful example to have in the toolbox. Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways has been generous about sharing their lessons-learned. I can’t wait to get out and experience the trail myself.”

If You Go: The Jakes Rocks recreation area is located off Route 59 by taking Forest Road 262 (Longhouse National Scenic Byway) at Morrison Bridge south to Forest Road 492 and taking the one lane road on the right from the Jakes Rocks Picnic Area and Overlook sign. Veer to the right at the intersection. The parking lot for the trailhead will be the first left. 

This content was created in partnership with the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship.

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Region: North Central

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