The rolling hills of Dickson County are a hallmark of Middle Tennessee, natural features that help define the area's character.
They also make for some fine mountain biking, and the 24 miles of winding trails within Montgomery Bell State Park are drawing people from all over.
"I can remember years back when 30 people came to our first event," says Montgomery Bell Ranger Eric Runkle, who helps oversee the trail system and a cadre of volunteers who are heavily involved in the maintenance effort. "Now, we pull people from across the nation. It's been an amazing thing to watch it grow along with the sport."
Bob Slayden is one of those volunteers who got involved a couple of years ago in the push to complete the last six miles, spending every weekend with a core group to create a series of bike paths that offer the kind of diverse technical difficulty, natural beauty and route diversity to not only appeal to riders of all ages, but to keep them coming back.
"We are very proud to have it in our system, and a lot of people consider it to be the best around," Slayden says. "We're lucky to have a porous, gravelly clay that drains really well and is very durable. When a lot of other places are too muddy, we can still ride here."
And that durability matters more than you might think. Mountain biking is considered to be a very low impact sport, and those interested in advancing the cause are focused on ensuring that the trails are kept in great shape-not rutted up goat paths, but rather sculpted and manicured tracks designed to offer a physically rewarding challenge without destroying the environment.
People like Darryl Glasscock, who has served not only as president of the local chapter of the Southern Off-Road Biking Association (SORBA), but as regional executive president for the International Mountain Biking Association. He's a passionate advocate for the sport and its benefits to the mind, body and soul, and also to the economy.
"The traffic is extraordinarily higher than you might expect, here at Montgomery Bell and all over the country. People come and stay and eat and sleep in hotels, they buy gas and shop in the stores," he says. "Participation in mountain biking is about twice that of golf, per capita, and look at how many golf courses we have. We're starting to see a lot of families and children getting involved, and we're excited to see a lot of bikers moving into Middle Tennessee."
It's even spawned a cottage industry in nearby White Bluff. The Bluff Bike and Skate opened recently on Main Street, filling a void for bike equipment and repairs for locals, as well as for the thousands of riders per month who visit the area.
"We have this great resource here but didn't have a bike shop, so we took a chance and opened one. We've seen people from as far as North Carolina just in the first few weeks, and the local community has been very supportive," says Jared Bowker, who owns the shop with his business partner Luke Hale. "You can ride and ride (at Montgomery Bell) and end up somewhere different every time. I've been out there freezing and still have people to ride with-once it gets in your blood, you don't want to wait for spring!"
While the winter months are prime time for trail construction and maintenance, the soil conditions at Montgomery Bell do allow for more low-impact winter riding than most places. You can get updates from the bike shop at (615) 519-7238, or visit the local SORBA website at sorbamidtn.org.
There are several other trail systems to explore around the Nashville area, and even more currently under construction. With the Inn at Montgomery Bell as home base, it's the perfect opportunity for a late fall long weekend.