On a recent Saturday morning, despite light rain, a small group of dedicated volunteers gathered at the Windy Ridge Trailhead in Mount Airy armed with hoes, pruners and a variety of other sharp tools. The group went to work pulling, cutting and digging out weeds, roots and debris to create a trail that, once completed, can be used by mountain bikers, hikers, walkers, joggers, birders or anyone else, for free.
After numerous presentations and meetings with the Mount Airy Town Council and Recreation and Parks department, Mount Airy residents Patrick and Kristen Ellis were granted permission in June 2021 to create the 4.3-mile Windy Ridge Trial and given $5,000 for trail design work.
As former leaders of a competitive youth mountain biking club, the Ellises have mountain-biked around the state and were interested in finding a place to do so closer to home. They found a 90-acre plot of land owned by the Town of Mount Airy near East West Park. Windy Ridge Trail starts behind the American Legion, at 801 Prospect Road, in Mount Airy.
“It was under-utilized and had a little bit of an existing trail that was created without any thought of sustainability. You would ride along the creek and in rain, it would flood and get muddy,” Kristen Ellis explained. “We want to connect (the new trail) to the Rail Trail so people can end up downtown and eat at restaurants or shop. Make it a real community.”
The Ellises have become trail liaisons for Windy Ridge Trail and Mid Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, a nonprofit representing mountain bikers in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia region. Most of the tools used by the volunteers were donated by MORE to help with trail shaping.
“It’s nice to live in a community where there is such a strong group of volunteers willing to get something like this done,” said Mike Riegel, chair of Mount Airy’s Recreation and Parks board, as he cleared weeds along the trail. “I give the Ellises a lot of credit.”
Three trail workdays have been organized so far, two in May and one in June. Future trail workdays are scheduled for July 2 and July 23. A professional trail designer was hired to lay out the trail and the majority of it is “going to be built by manual labor,” Kristen Ellis said.
“At some point, we want to add a bike park, a concentrated section with practice area, steps, declines, little banks,” she said. “That’s further down the road.”
The group is doing its best to stay on top of trail maintenance to ensure what was cleared doesn’t grow back while they move ahead.
“It really comes back quickly, especially in the spring,” Riegel said.
Patrick Ellis encouraged the volunteers to talk to each other and discuss any questions they had about low-hanging limbs or questionable underbrush.
“We need good ideas,” he said, advising them to visualize themselves using the trail and what would or wouldn’t work. “A good designed trail you can tell, night and day.”
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Stephanie Williams of Mount Airy was attending her first workday along with her son, Jayden Capels, 12. A hiker, Williams wanted to help create more places to hike nearby.
“I saw this posted on Facebook and thought, ‘Yep, that’s for me,’” Williams said. “I started hiking during the pandemic.”
Volunteer Darrel Dorsey enjoys running and thought it would be nice to “give back a little” by helping out with the project.
“Mountain bikers do a lot of trail work,” Dorsey said. “Runners need to step up more.”
The Ellises were encouraged by the various interests of volunteers who showed up to work.
“It’s a great project,” Kristen Ellis said. “It’s really exciting when you get different community groups involved.”
It is too early to determine when the trail will be complete and ready to use, she said, but the hope is it will be complete in 2024.