Pocahontas County receives IMBA designation

a press CONFERENCE was held Monday afternoon at the Linwood Alive pavilion where it was announced that Pocahontas County has received a bronze level IMBA [International Mountain Bicycling Association] designation. Speakers at the event were, l to r: Pocahontas Trails president Eric Lindberg, Monongahela National Forest district rangers Jack Tribble and Cindy Sandeno, MNF mapper Robin Bruns, Snowshoe Mountain Resort vice president of mountain operations Ken Gaiter and public relations manager Shawn Cassell, and Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Cara Rose. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

After more than two years of collaboration and hard work, Pocahontas County has officially been named a bronze level IMBA [International Mountain Bicycling Association] Ride Center.

An IMBA Ride Center is a large-scale collection of trails and other features for mountain bikers to enjoy in one area. Ride Centers feature extensive trail networks – from backcountry adventures to shuttle-served gravity trails. The trails range from expert-only level to family-friendly riding.

There are a total of 40 IMBA Ride Centers in the world, and the Pocahontas County Ride Center – dubbed Snowshoe Highlands – is the first in West Virginia and fifth in the mid-Atlantic region.

At a press conference Monday, representatives from the organizations involved – Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Monongahela National Forest, Snowshoe Mountain Resort and Pocahontas Trails – shared the news with the community.
CVB executive director Cara Rose kicked off the event with the official announcement.

“I’m happy to say today that Pocahontas County has been designated as an International Mountain Bicycling Association Ride Center,” she said. “We’re a premier mountain biking destination already, but this puts us with the world’s best. It’s been quite an honor to work on this project. It’s been two years in the making – or probably a little bit more than two years – that we’ve been working on this project. We have a wonderful tourism product. We have great mountain bike trails. We have wonderful community support; great services that enhance the product that we have to offer mountain bikers, and this new designation just enhances what we already have.”

The Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center includes the bike park and gravity trails at Snowshoe, as well as trails throughout Pocahontas County. Since the project included a large portion of the county, the organizations involved worked together to enhance the trails, as well as ensure the application was on point.

“It’s been a group effort,” Rose said. “We’ve had a large team of people working on this project. I have to say, I’ve worked on a lot of projects during my thirty years in tourism and this one has probably been the most rewarding. From the very beginning, this project had the support of all organizations that we asked to help.”

Representatives for Snowshoe, vice president of mountain operations Ken Gaiter and public relations manager Shawn Cassell, shared their thoughts about the project and what it means for the mountain and community.

“What I got the most from was just building relationships with the people on the team,” Gaiter said. “It was great to work toward a goal together, but more than that even, I think now that these relationships are in place, it will continue to build our community, and it’ll pay dividends for years to come. 

“I’m super stoked to finally be there. I think we will continue to move forward with this. We will continue to grow,” Gaiter continued. “I think other people in West Virginia are now looking at us thinking, ‘okay, they’re a Ride Center, now we want to be a Ride Center.’ It’s just going to start this snowball and get biking really moving even more than it has been in the past few years.”

Cassell echoed Gaiter’s comments and added that the designation makes it easier to tell people about all the trails they can enjoy in Pocahontas County.

“It’s a very valuable tool as a marketer to have this type of stuff to help us get the word out,” he said. “I find myself trying to explain to people about where they can ride besides the bike part at Snowshoe and now I have a handy dandy URL to point them to, and that will save time.”

From the MNF, district rangers Cindy Sandeno and Jake Tribble, and mapper Robin Bruns explained the application process and shared appreciation for being a part of the project.

“I played a big role in getting all the data and our submission materials for the application process,” Bruns said. “IMBA is really selective in terms of what they look for in a Ride Center. They require trail mileage, a variety of trail types. They’re looking for services in the communities. They’re looking at our best practices in our local marketing efforts. I just wanted to emphasize that this would not have been possible for the forest service to do alone or for Snowshoe to do alone. This really required a team effort for us to make this designation possible.”

Sandeno and Tribble added that the forest service sees the designation as an opportunity for future collaborations and continued support for the trails in the county.

“We do manage a large area, but this is a very special area and this is going to help us springboard the next set of trails out there, working as a group,” Tribble said.

“It’s just been an awesome experience to be able to tie mountain biking to individual communities, to the forest and to Snowshoe and bring it all together,” Sandeno added.

The Pocahontas Trails, which is also an IMBA chapter, was also instrumental in working on the project. President Eric Lindberg spoke about how working toward the designation has already started to renew interest in the area, which will continue to grow with the official Ride Center designation.

“We are the first IMBA chapter in West Virginia,” Lindberg said. “There’s a story about that that’s absolutely hilarious. I called them on the first of April and he thought it was an April Fool’s joke. That’s how West Virginia has always been seen. We got the chapter started. Right away, the community jumped in and supported us. The forest service was a huge help to us. Snowshoe has been huge. CVB, everybody really made it come together.”

Lindberg added that the improvements haven’t stopped, and he has applied for a grant to expand the trails in Pocahontas County.

“We put in a grant – we’ll see if it comes through or not – but it’s to try to connect Snowshoe to the Mower Tract and all the land that’s north of us which would be absolutely spectacular,” he said. “If we could get that, it would just bump us up again.”

Rose also mentioned Doug Arbogast and Jaclyn Strader with the West Virginia University Extension Service, who could not attend, but were also a large part of the application process.

Receiving the bronze level designation has been a great boost for the trails in Pocahontas County, but Rose said that there are plans to strive for a silver and later a gold level, as well as possible plans to become a Regional Ride Center.

“I’m not a mountain biker, but I do honestly believe that we have the best mountain bike product in the mid-Atlantic, maybe even broader than that,” she said. “We’re so fortunate to be designated a bronze level today. The message from IMBA was that they think we can be a silver in a year, so it takes a little bit more work. We’re going to be working on that to become a silver designation in about a year and becoming a gold center one of these days is not out of the question. I think that’s our ultimate goal.”

To become a Regional Ride Center, Snowshoe Highlands will have to collaborate with surrounding counties to create an even larger circuit of trails.

“Working with other communities, you can be a Regional Ride Center, so I think we have some opportunities in the state of West Virginia to work with Fayetteville – they’re doing some trail development there and some broader projects – and also in Tucker County,” Rose said. “If we could help them become Ride Centers as well, within a couple of hours of us, we’d have a Regional Ride Center.”

For more information on the Ride Center, visit www.RideSnowshoeHighlands.com

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