LITHIA — Two of the top-rated mountain bike trails in Florida are located in Lithia: Alafia River State Park, 14326 S. County Road 39, and Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve, 13998 Balm Boyette Road, according to Singletracks Mountain Bike Blog followers.
“Alafia is built on 90-year-old phosphate mines,” said Jeff White, of Seminole, trail boss at Alafia River State Park. “The mines closed 50 years ago; no land reclamation was done back then. The swamp took over and the monsoon rains carved the hills into 50-foot-high ridges, valleys and lakes. We build novice, intermediate, advanced and expert trails on this terrain.”
Some hills are gradual, others steep. More advanced, take-your-breath-away trails feature sudden drops, twists, turns, climbs, steep rollercoaster-type dips and rocky sections.
About 400 cars, representing approximately 500 skilled riders from all over the state, enter the Alafia park gate on Saturdays and Sundays, he said. Nevertheless, “about 80 percent of our riders are intermediate, so you still feel alone, especially on the two expert trails.”
Vegetation growth, erosion and the effects of so many bicycle tires on the trails necessitate continual maintenance, as do natural disasters, such as a twister that knocked down trees on the Balm-Boyette trails Aug. 23.
About six years ago, White and his wife, Alicia Diem, retired and moved to the Tampa Bay area. One of their hobbies is mountain biking, so upon arrival, they joined the SWAMP Club — South West Association of Mountain bike Pedalers — which builds and maintains about 100 miles of single-track trails within 70 miles of Tampa.
In July 2012, White became the Alafia trail boss. He and Diem volunteer twice a week in exchange for riding hours on the nearly 20-mile-long Alafia trails. She power-trims encroaching vegetation and he teaches volunteers modern, sustainable trail-building and maintenance techniques at the park.
White welcomes the help of Boy Scouts like 16-year-old Brandon-resident Jonathan Sangiorgio of Troop 110, who contacted him about building a banked boardwalk for the park’s Roller Coaster bike trail for his Eagle Scout project.
These raised, wooden structures allow riders to pass over trail obstacles such as streams, mud holes, drainage problems and trail gaps.
Each trail is skill-rated, so White designs and calculates “bank angle and radius based on the speed and skill level of the typical riders,” he said. “Every boardwalk is different (and) constructed with struts, posts, x-bar supports and top boards, all screwed together. Anti-skid paint is applied to the top boards.”
To reduce construction time for Scout projects, White delivers pre-cut, ready-to-assemble wood to the site. He provides wooden-berm construction guidance to the future industry technologists.
“Jonathan’s construction is perfect for the place it was designed for,” White said. “It’s a win-win. The Scout earns the satisfaction of project leadership and accomplishment, the SWAMP Club enjoys lower construction costs and I’m proud to help our future entrepreneurs.”
The SWAMP Club provides guided trail rides and training classes for riders of all skill levels. View videos of the Alafia trails at www.youtube.com under Alafia Magic Island.
The club will host the 2014 Alafia Fat Tire Festival Biking Event Nov. 7, 8 and 9. It will include guided rides, open rides, a night ride, beverages and snacks for all rides, live entertainment, four meals, camping for two nights, a swap meet and factory representatives with demonstration bikes. The per-person cost is $95 plus a $9 service fee. Registration runs Sunday, through Oct. 19. There will be no event-day registration, and no unpaid guests will be allowed at the event. Visit www .swampclub.org or email [email protected] for details.
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