Matt Lloyd looks at the years of work to create a beautiful new bike trail through Cannock Chase.
Anew mountain bike trail in the heart of the Midlands could attract thousands more riders to the area but those behind the £200,000 scheme say the real success story is one of people power.
Eight years ago when a small group of cyclists came together to enjoy their hobby in the heart of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire it would be difficult to foresee next month’s major launch.
On hand to open the new 8km monkey trail through the ancient Cannock woodland will be Commonwealth Silver Medalist and Olympian Oli Beckingsale.
And according to Rob Lamb, 27, a member of the Chase Trails cycling group, this major coup is well justified following years of hard work to establish the area as a cycling power house.
It is largely thanks to Chase Trails’ volunteers that the new red-track, which caters for experienced riders, has become a reality.
Working in partnership with the Forestry Commission for three years, members of the group helped plan the route, raise the cash to fund it and even organised work days to lay the trail.
For Rob, it was those days, when up to 60 volunteers chipped in, that stand out in the long journey to the April 17 launch.
He said: “The Big build days have been the big success story. We would get 60 volunteers, some Chase Trails members but some just volunteers from the local community.
“It was really family based. It sounds like hard work and grafting and very male oriented but there were kids and women who helped.
“We would have a barbecue at lunch time to make it a more social occasion. People would do as much as they could or wanted to.”
They also helped with planting, levelling and arranging the rocks set down to test cyclists up to a professional level in some places.
Now the hard work is done, Rob is looking forward to seeing the track attract cyclists not only from the local area but from all over the country.
He said: “It’s going to be fantastic, it’s a real step up. The place could be in Wales or Scotland, people drive hours to get to those.”
Forestry Commission manager Jason MacLean also hailed the new trail, saying it would not only boost the area’s cycling credentials but would help preserve the fragile Cannock Chase environment for future generations.
He said: “It is environmental because parts of the Chase are very fragile so we’re working with our partners and trying to encourage people away from the most fragile areas.”
Jason said the new trail would test even the most experienced cyclists and keep them coming back for more instead of encouraging them to seek their own trails through the area’s delicate lowland heath.
And he said starting the new course at the Birches Valley Forest Centre would encourage people to spend money, which could then be ploughed back into the scheme.
He said: “We can spend tens of thousands of pounds maintaining the area a year and we have to rely on what comes in.
“By encouraging people to use the car park and the cafe will bring in extra income.”
Jason also credited the volunteers of Chase Trails for their hard work, saying the venture could not have gone forward without them working every weekend on the project.
The volunteer group secured essential funding, £28,000 from the Staffordshire Aggregates Levy Grant Scheme, and gave a further £42,000 in donations and man-power time.
They also secured a further £130,800 from the National Lottery’s Sport England fund.
Rob added: “Working with a great team of partners has been critical to the success of the project and we couldn’t have achieved this without the ongoing help of our volunteers.”
* The new monkey trail opens on April 17 at the Birches Valley Forest Centre, Lady Hill, Birches Valley, Rugeley. Oli Beckingsale will ride the trail at 2pm.