The year 2020 hasn’t been all bad. If you’re a Missouri mountain biker, that is.

At the time of this writing, both a new mountain bike skills park in Eureka and the US’s largest pump track in St. Charles were only days away from opening.

Then came word that funding had been approved for phase one of a downhill mountain bike park in Ironton, Missouri, just 90 miles south of St. Louis. Shovels broke ground in early June, with the first phase scheduled to be complete in Spring 2021.

“The City has owned about 800 acres of Shepherd Mountain for a couple of decades and wanted to make good use of the asset,” said Ironton Mayor Bob Lourwood. “We looked at zip lines and ropes courses, ATVs and all those things, but nothing really took hold. Then, last year, GORC Gravity came to us and said, ‘We’d like to use the land for mountain biking.’ It was really their enthusiasm that started us down this trail.”

GORC Gravity is a subgroup of nonprofit Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC), which has built and currently maintains close to 100 miles of multiuse trail in the Greater St. Louis area.

Phase one of the Shepherd Mountain project includes the building of five trails: one beginner flow trail, one intermediate flow trail, one intermediate technical trail, and two advanced downhill trails, all built by Alex Scott of Jagged Axe Trail Designs. GORC will build a climbing trail to return to the top of the bike park. For those who prefer not to have to climb, the City of Ironton will build a road allowing shuttle vehicles — in this case, military Hummers — to drive riders and their bikes back to the top of the mountain.

“This park has the potential to be one of the premier mountain bike parks in the Midwest,” said Lourwood, noting Shepherd’s 600 feet of elevation and scenic granite rock features. “From the City’s perspective, this is about economic development. If we invest in the mountain bike park, then tourists will come to ride the trails and our businesses will benefit from that.”

Those businesses include hotels, bed and breakfasts, RV parks, campsites, shops, and restaurants within a short bike ride of Shepherd Mountain, says Lourwood. Floating on the Black River; kayaking on the St. Francois River; and exploring Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Elephant Rocks, and Taum Sauk Mountain state parks are also nearby adventures.

“Visitors will have access to other outdoor activities, making a multiday trip worthwhile,” said Lourwood.

Lourwood told the Daily Journal Online that once the trails have been completed, Ironton has plans to build a pavilion, complete with restrooms, at the base of Shepherd Mountain near the existing hiking trailhead. All the gravity trails will finish near the pavilion.

Additionally, Lourwood said the city intends to construct a building with parking in the commercial district, allowing cyclists to park their vehicles, buy a shuttle ticket, and ride a shuttle from the commercial district to Shepherd Mountain. Connector trails that cyclists can use when returning from the gravity trails are also planned.

“Personally, I’ve never ridden a mountain bike and probably never will. It’s funny because I look at Shepard Mountain and see a nice view, but these [GORC Gravity] guys see a hidden treasure,” said Lourwood. “The community here has really gotten behind it. It’s that vision that has kept us going.”

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.