Footprints and fat tires have taken their toll on the Tour de Wolf Trail at Shelby Farms Park, and signs of its overuse are evident all along the roughly 6-mile path.
Some of the hills are barer than they should be on a wet fall day, loose dirt has hardened over time to form ruts and tree roots have ventured into the trail that winds through the eastern section of the popular park and attracts walkers, joggers and mountain bikers.
The Tour de Wolf trail at Shelby Farms Park is getting a renovation that will keep the multi-use cross country dirt trail but incorporate some safety features. The two-year process will take place along five miles of the six-mile trail.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Approximately five miles of the trail is about to get a makeover, from safety features like new bridges to a rerouting around tree roots to mulch that should help footing in other areas.
The two-year process of sprucing up the trail, first laid out by Outdoors Inc. co-owner Joe Royer in the 1980s, is being funded with a $40,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“We’re going to use it for the trail’s enhancement,” said Larry Pickens, park operations manager for the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy. “We are trying to use as little for staffing and contracting as possible.”
The conservancy’s 20 percent local match is contributing another $8,000 through in-kind services like volunteer labor on the trail as well as donated material for the project. Pickens said the public can volunteer for some of the work and park rangers will be involved in other tasks. A few of the tasks will probably involve using heavy equipment for items like a small culvert and berms.
The conservancy, which operates and maintains the park for Shelby County government, will hold planning sessions, tentatively set for February, with the work beginning once the contract with the state is signed.
Conservancy vice chairman Tom Grimes said the trail is an important part of the park now, even as the conservancy continues working on its larger master plan, which so far has resulted in $17 million in new features.
“This is an important sort of maintenance opportunity for us to improve what we have,” Grimes said. “This is just one of continuing to take care of this great park. It’s not enough to make it better and add things; we’ve got to make sure we take care of and do continual regular maintenance on the park.”
Pickens said the trail will remain a multiuse trail for runners, walkers and bicycle riders. The maintenance on the trail will focus on taking out some especially treacherous ruts for bicycle riders as well as pruning limbs at body level with those riding on horseback.
“The main thing is we are adding a safety feature to this that it does not have now,” Pickens said. “It will probably draw in a lot more visitors than we are having now just because of the safety factor. The challenge will be obviously to make it where the novice biker can enjoy the trail as well as the experienced biker, hiker and runners.”
“It’s not easy to get money from us,” joked Brock Hill, deputy state commissioner for parks and conservation in the TDEC organization.
Hill said the Tour de Wolf renovations won state funding because the idea is in keeping with the state’s concept of such trails as a reflection of local communities. The money comes from the department’s conservation recreational trails program specifically set aside for such projects.
On a cold, rainy day after most of the leaves have vanished from the trees, it is easy to see the trail’s age and use.
An early sign marking one end of the trail, which is designed for a cross-country experience for running and mountain biking, still bears the original spelling of the trail as “Tour d’ Wolf.”
The name was also on an annual mountain bike race that drew as many as 1,500 riders. It ended several years ago, but a version of it is the annual Outdoors Inc. Cyclocross Championship, which was held earlier this month at Mud Island’s Greenbelt Park. The Wolfman Duathlon, held each April, includes a trail run and mountain bike ride on the Tour de Wolf.
The trail will remain a dirt trail in which the changing terrain, from wooded areas to open fields, is the concept. Pickens said in the last few weeks, as word of the state grant has circulated, a mountain biking group contacted him about bringing an event back to the course.