The bus had carried 30 cyclists from Florida, most of whom were riding Coldwater’s 25 miles of trails. Two of the other three vehicles in the parking lot had out-of-state plates.
“Mountain bikers will find new trail,” said Ryan Richter, a Georgia man who stayed at the trailhead while friends took to their bikes for the second time Friday.
That kind of regional draw is exactly what area officials hope to see grow stronger with Coldwater’s designation this week as a bronze-level “ride center” by the International Mountain Biking Association.
“We’ve been expecting and been hopeful for this news,” said Anniston City Planner Toby Bennington. “It is a very distinguished category to be in as it relates to the mountian biking trail network.”
Bennington said the recognition will bring another level of notoriety to the trail system, which will help the region develop its plans to be known as an ecotourism destination.
“It not only further markets and promotes Coldwater Mountain,” Bennington said. “It recognizes Coldwater Mountain as a destination of interest.”
IMBA’s ride center designation is reserved for large-scale mountain biking facilities that offer a range of trail surfaces to challenge the experts and accommodate beginners, according to the organization's website. Such trails are also recognized for both their quality and community support said Mark Eller, IMBA’s communications director.
Trails recognized by IMBA as ride centers are divided into three classifications, gold, silver and bronze.
This week, trails in Canada, the Czech Republic, Montana and Colorado were also added to the bronze list. With the newly designated trails, including Coldwater, there are now 11 bronze-level cycling centers across in the world.
Five trails, including one in Italy recognized this week, are designated as silver-level ride centers. Just one trail system, in Park City, Utah, has received the gold-level designation. Eller said the success of that trail has helped cultivate a summer tourism season in Park City, previously known mostly as a ski town, and has led to town’s selection as host of an international cycling event for IMBA.
Atop Coldwater, local officials plan to continue developing trailheads and more miles of trail and to add more parking and facilities nearby. There already are access points off Coldwater Road and Monsanto Road, and Anniston officials are working to develop a trailhead nearer the city at Natalie Lane, Bennington said.
Those improvements may help the trail receive more distinctions from IMBA, possibly moving up to a silver-level or gold-level cycling center, Bennington said. He added that that such recognition could be positive, but it’s not the chief of objective of the developers.
Bennington said the chief goal is to develop a high-quality trail system with plenty of access points and accommodations.
A member of the IMBA staff invites potential candidates, such as chambers of commerce, community leaders or private landowners, to apply for the designations in the spring. Successful applicants then work with their IMBA staff sponsors to complete the application and review process during the summer months. Successful applicants are notified in the fall.
Eller said that mountain bikers trust IMBA and that the designation is a signal to the mountain-biking community that cyclists won’t be disappointed by a visit to Coldwater.
“Our hope is that people look to places like Coldwater as an example of what mountain biking looks like when it’s done right,” Eller said.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.