Mountain bikers have had a lot to celebrate over the past few years, with multiple new trail systems opening throughout the Midwest. And there’s more to come. In southwest Missouri, TrailSpring, the nonprofit that built Two Rivers Bike Park in Highlandville, has taken on an expansive new project just minutes from downtown Springfield called Dirt 66.
Optimized for mountain biking, the 66-mile trail system calls to mind the historic Route 66 and, once complete, will incorporate greenway and on-road connections to each of six zones. Along with increased recreational opportunities, Dirt 66 will provide safe passage and alternative transportation for commuting and will link many of Springfield’s existing parks.
According to Alaina Grote, executive director for TrailSpring, the vision behind this project is to “spur an outdoor renaissance in Springfield, bringing with it tourism, infrastructure, and quality-of-life improvements. This project is dedicated to creating an accessible, scalable, and sustainable trail system utilized by local residents as well as tourists. These natural-surface trails are designed for hiking, running, biking, and exploring the beauty of the area as well as creating a connected and accessible trail system for the community.”
TrailSpring has partnered with Progressive Trail Design to conceptualize and construct the natural-surface trails with the intent to maximize the available mileage not just for mileage’s sake, but also to create a destination that people can come to ride and stay over a series of days. TrailSpring hopes to continue increasing regional tourism with annual events like the Singletrack Mind Festival and opening celebrations for new trails within the Dirt 66 system, but it also recognizes that available mileage is an important draw when people are choosing a destination system to ride.
Keeping an eye on sustainability, Progressive Trail Design has developed the trails with a focus on water control and erosion prevention. The Dirt 66 system will include machine-built trail that makes the construction more efficient and enables proper drains to be added. It also employs selective methods of trail building, including the use of hand tools. While this approach can be slower, it can also be very rewarding for those volunteering to get dirty.
Rolled Out in Phases
Because the Dirt 66 project is such a large undertaking, it will be completed in phases. Fellows Lake is the first phase completed, with 25 miles of multi-use single-track.
This phase consists primarily of beginner-friendly and accessible trail system that features rolling topography with bluff lines, meadow overlooks, and scenic views of the lake. For those who want a fun downhill experience, there are red-grade trails on either end of the lake. Cyclists can park at any of the trailheads and experience fast, flowy singletrack that is suitable for most riders. For the non-riders who tag along, there are other outdoor amenities like a playground, boat rentals, bathroom facilities, and a shop at the marina.
Last fall, the Missouri Interscholastic Cycling League held one of its mountain biking races at Fellows Lake. Addi Craig, 15, raced at the event and said the trail system “was a really nice area, and all the trails were super flowy and fast. It was all just really fun. There was an old building foundation that you got to ride on, which was pretty cool.”
According to Mike Higgins, coach for the SEMO Mudcats Mountain Biking Team, “the trail was very well-built and fun to ride. I can definitely see myself going back and riding the rest of the trail system at Fellows Lake.” He also said that some of the NICA riders felt it was “one of the best trails they had raced on in the past two years.”
Future Dirt 66 zones/phases to be developed, expanded, and connected include:
- Sac River Mtn. Bike Trails – Currently has 8 miles of single-track built in 1996
- Ritter Springs – Plans for 6 miles of new mountain biking trail with potential upgrades including a skills course and pump track
- David C. Murray Park and Trailhead – Potential upgrades include a skills trail and a hard-surface pump track
- Fullbright Park – Potential developments include flow and contour trails with more technical options
- Lost Hill Park – Potential upgrades include a beginner climb and downhill trail with intermediate and advanced technical lines
- McDaniel Lake – Potential for a short backcountry experience with intermediate and advanced “old school” singletrack
At this time, there is no formal timeline for completing the remaining segments of the Dirt 66 system. TrailSpring will assess the usage and maintenance of the Fellows Lake trails and then determine the next phase to pursue. It also hopes to gain additional support from the local government and seek new funding opportunities from local partners.
Upon completion, Dirt 66 will be a comprehensive and inclusive trail system designed around a variety of trail types, from greenway and gateway trails to contour flow trails and technical downhill lines. The network will have something for everyone, so come get your kicks…on Dirt 66.
Author: Missy Phegley is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.