“Project Passion” takes Horns Hill mountain bike trails to the top
NEWARK – Roger Morgan found a ‘silver lining’ last year at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Morgan and others who helped run the Horns Hill Park Improvement Fund have stepped up a gear, and it never stopped. On Thursday, city leaders, donors and sponsors toured what has literally become a premier mountain biking facility overnight.
“There has been a tremendous amount of earth that has been moved and carved into what is now considered one of the best mountain biking sites in the Midwest,” said Bob Bevard, a retired school teacher. the City of Newark, which helped build the first four courtyards almost 15 years ago.
“Say it again, Bob,” interrupted Mayor Jeff Hall jokingly as the applause followed.
“We had no idea it would go that far,” Bevard continued.
The plan in 2020 was to renovate the existing four and eventually add five more trails to the park. With the help of the City of Newark, the Licking County Foundation, Dave Huff’s Innovative Dirt Solutions and dozens of volunteers, twelve courses complete with connectors to make 17 are now fully operational, rain or shine .
Huff first reached Licking County in 2003 and soon after connected with Bevard and Brian Gonser. Huff called the first four trails a “passion project” and the trails now cover over 12 miles up and down and around the park.
“(Ethan Quehl) and I, the best part of our day is towards the end when you see a family unload their bikes to go out for a ride. It’s like you’ve reached your goal,” Huff said. “Seeing them once is great, but seeing them come back every weekend is even better.”
The trails are open to the public and available rain or shine. The group’s Facebook page includes a map with the difficulty level of each trail, which can also be found in the main Horns Hill hut.
The park was filled all summer with riders of all skill levels. A race with up to 150 competitors is scheduled for the first weekend in October.
“Hearing people say this is the best park in the Midwest is the icing on the cake for me,” Huff said.
Thursday’s event included a tour to showcase some of the park’s trails and spectacular views.
Local professional riders Jutt Wood and Spencer Scott demonstrated on one of the expert track jumps and drop-ins. Huff liked to point out the Upper Jurassic at the back of the property, which is a slalom-style track accessible to beginners and experts alike.
“Everything on this trail is rolling so a dad and a son can hike it,” Huff said. “Dad can jump it, but son can just go through it. They are always having fun because it looks like a roller coaster.”
Trek Bicycle Corporation donated $ 25,000 to the project on Thursday, becoming the first corporate sponsor. However, this is a real grassroots campaign with around $ 125,000 raised and double the volunteer labor and supplies donated over the past two years.
Morgan said the group was working with the City of Heath to make similar improvements to the 200 acres of Forry Preserve.
Wood, the owner of Downtown Cycles, travels the country to ride and compete, but he was a bit at a loss for words to describe what it means now to have an elite setup in his backyard.
“I can’t believe how fast it all happened. What these guys did is pretty remarkable,” said Wood. “I have hiked a bunch of different spots, and this is definitely one of my favorites for sure. If you are an ATV enthusiast and live nearby or even in the state, you have heard of this place. “