Locust Shade

Transforming a regional county park.

In early May of 2016 Ryan Delany, then Prince William County Parks and Recreation Trail Manager, reached out to Martín Fernández, of the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts, about the possibility of leading an effort to revitalize the existing legacy trail system at Locust Shade Park in Triangle, Virginia. Martín took the project by the reigns, and over the course of the next 5 years, with help from other volunteers and Prince William County staff, set out to transform Locust Shade’s trail system into a regional mountain Biking destination.

Prepared by Martín Fernández, MORE Locust Shade Trail Liaison

Background

In April of 2016 Martín Fernández, Ryan Delaney and Howard Olsen worked together to submit a proposal (pdf) to Prince William Forest Park (PWFP) to address sustainability issues with the Oak Ridge Trail. The objective of the proposal was to transform the short trail into a multi-use trail and open the door to mountain biking in PWFP. While that proposal was unsuccessful, PWFP later published a trails revitalization plan that included 7 miles of cycling specific trails in the park. This collaborative effort between the Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) and the Prince William County Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (PWCPARKS) led to further discussions on Locust Shade Park and the potential to realign sections of unsustainable trail and add additional trails, including cycling specific corridors, to the small county park.

As a result, Ryan Delaney drafted the first concept map for the potential expansion at Locust Shade in May of 2016. Later that year in June-July, planning for the expansion of the Locust Shade trails system began with direct support from PWCPARKS and the National Park Service’s Potomac Heritage Trail office. Trail re-alignment and construction began in earnest in late 2019 with the construction of the Lower Advanced Mountain Biking trail, The Col Du Shade, and continued on until late 2021 with the building of the multi-use beginner trail, the intermediate trail corridor and the Upper Advanced  Mountain Biking trail, 95th Street.

Work on the park will continue into 2022 with additional improvements and ongoing maintenance efforts.

ABOVE: The area of “focus” included addressing the section of trails highlighted in the map above. One section was completely re-routed and reclaimed. Another is slated for closure in the near future.

Locust Shade, by the numbers

  • The Project area included approximately 2 miles of multi-use trails, including the red trail, the blue trail loop, and the teal power line loop.
  • The new aggregated trail mileage is approximately 7 miles, including two miles designated specifically mountain biking trail, the first of their kind in Prince William County.
  • Volunteers built six new bridges to help riders and hikers cross multiple creeks, including a 66’ boardwalk to avoid a perpetually muddy section of trail along Russel Road.
  • Volunteers, with assistance from professional trail builder Brock Lowery of Ironwood Outdoors, built 12 new wood features of varying difficulty on both advanced MTB trails
  • Over $100,000 was raised to fund the project, with grants from MORE, REI, The National Park Foundation, the Outdoor Foundation and private donors.
  • Volunteers logged over 1000 hours of their time to work on the trails in 2020 and 2021. 651 of those hours were logged in 2021 alone. Work included ongoing trail maintenance and support to finish the new trails.

ABOVE: The updated “unofficial” map of Locust Shade Park. The portion of the old blue trail marked with red “Xs” is slated for closure in the near future. Colors reflect planned blazes.

Planning and Execution

  • MORE volunteers and PWCPARKS staff began mapping and flagging potential new trail corridors in July 2017.
  • MORE leadership began spearheading fund raising efforts. By 2020 MORE secures grants from REI, the Outdoor Foundation and the National Park Foundation totaling nearly $94,000 for construction of two advanced (MTB Only) trails, a beginner multi-use trail and intermediate multi-use trail corridor. In 2021 MORE augments the trail budget with $10,000 from its General Trails Fund.
  • The initial focus of the project is placed on the Lower Advanced Loop, aka “Col du Shade,” which is to become the first mountain bike specific trail in the County.

  • Col du Shade (Lower Advanced MTB Trail): The final corridor flag line is approved in early May of 2019. Volunteers began corridor clearing in June, and worked through September, in anticipation of the builder’s arrival. Construction began in late 2019 and is completed in June 2020, in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
  • Bolitas (Beginner Trail): Construction of the beginner trail began in late 2020 and is completed in November of that year.
  • Intermediate Corridor: Volunteers began clearing the corridor for the intermediate trails in November/December 2020. Most of these trails would require little, if any machine work. Volunteers built 6 bridges, including one 66’ boardwalk through the spring and summer of 2021.
  • 95th Street (Upper Advanced MTB Trail): Trail Construction of the second Mountain Bike only designated trail began in August 2021. 95th Street “soft opened” to riders on October 12, 2021.
Original Concept Map by Ryan Delaney
Refined concept showing a stacked loop approach
Additional refinements to the stacked loop approach
Realignment of the new beginner loop (green) - this is the eventual new corridor

ABOVE: early concept maps for the Locust Shade trails alignment project.

Lower Advanced Mountain Bike Trail, The Col Du Shade

  • Final planning and walk throughs for new Lower Advanced MTB corridor began in April 2019.
  • Final flag line approved in early May of 2019. Volunteers began corridor clearing in June, with work running through September, in anticipation of the builder’s arrival, Iron wood Outdoors.
  • Construction on the final Col Du Shade corridor began in late 2019 and is completed in June 2020 in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Virtual opening.
    The first feature along the Col Du Shade
    Building the G-Off
    Cutting the long bench

    ABOVE: Building the two wooden features and the long bench cut along the Col Du Shade. 

    ABOVE: The entry to the Col Du Shade sets the stage for the next 1 mile, tight and twisty singletrack.

    • Bolitas, the new beginner multi-use trail

    With construction of the Col du Shade in progress, volunteers began flagging the corridor for the new beginner multi-use trail. The initial plans for this trail avoided the area between the access trail and Route 1, just south of the driving range. It was later determined, however, that this area was ideal and best suited for a beginner corridor. PWCPARKS staff flagged a new line along this section and worked with MORE volunteers to maximize the existing red trail corridor to minimize construction. The new corridor bypassed two steep and unsustainable sections of the old red trail, but retained several other portions. Construction of the beginner trail began in late 2020 and was completed in November of that year. The effort included volunteer teams “finishing” the roughed in machine work, along with the construction of a short boardwalk/bridge. Plans are in development for the addition of a second bridge to facilitate a creek crossing.

    Realignment of the new beginner loop (green) - this is the eventual new corridor
    A portion of the beginner trail that parallels Route 1.

    ABOVE: A portion of the beginner trail that parallels Route 1.

    ABOVE: The entry to the new beginner trail needed additional armoring to help avoid a perpetual muddy spot. Volunteers installed several pavers like these in key sections of the new beginner trail. County staff addressed additional issues on the double track gravel road leading to the trail head.

    ABOVE: Volunteers work to improve drainage and install armoring on a section of generally wet trail.

    ABOVE: The new beginner trail shortly after construction was completed.

    • The new intermediate corridor
    The first comprehensive map of the Locust Shade re-alignment Project

    As completion of the beginner trail neared, volunteers began clearing the approved flag lines along the the intermediate multi-use corridor. Most of these trails would require little, if any machine work. By early December 2020 the corridor was cleared and opened for users to enjoy. Minor adjustments were made during the winter and spring of 2021 to improve sight lines and mitigate potential erosion issues. During that time volunteers built 6 bridges and one 66’ boardwalk through a perpetually muddy section of trail. The corridor clearing process included what would become the Upper Advanced MTB Trail, 95th Street.

    Volunteers built 6 bridges along the intermediate corridor to help hikers and riders easily cross various streams.

    ABOVE: Volunteers built 6 bridges along the intermediate corridor to help hikers and riders easily cross various streams.

    Volunteer crews participated in multiple "lumber hauls" to get materials to the work sites.

    ABOVE: Volunteer crews participated in multiple “lumber hauls” to get materials to the work sites.

    Volunteers of all ages helped build all the bridges along the intermediate corridor.

    ABOVE: Volunteers of all ages helped build all the bridges along the intermediate corridor.

    Dirt from nearby "root balls" was used to fill in and ramp up the bridge approaches to make them easier to ride and hike.

    ABOVE: Dirt from nearby “root balls” was used to fill in and ramp up the bridge approaches to make them easier to ride and hike.

    • The Upper Advanced Mountain Bike Trail, 95th Street
    95th Street Map

    The area where the Upper Advanced Trail, 95th Street, is located, was initially slated to be the new beginner trail at Locust Shade. After discussions with PWC Park Staff the focus for the beginner trail was shifted to the space just south of the driving range and along the old red trail corridor. This “shift” allowed MORE volunteers, with support from the county, to develop a comprehensive plan for an advanced trail that included multiple progressive features that could help riders improve their skills. To that end, MORE volunteers worked closely with Ironwood outdoors to plan out a series of features that riders could session.

    Clearing for what would become 95th Street was completed in December 2020 while the intermediate corridor was being worked on. Between the spring and summer of 2021, in collaboration with Ironwood outdoors, various adjustments were made to the corridor line to maximize terrain and improve feature safety. Construction of the new trail began in August 2021 and included a considerable amount of volunteer support to build the advanced features. Workdays were organized during the last weekend in August, all weekends in September, and into the first week of October, to help open the trail to all users. 95th Street was “soft opened” to riders on October 12, 2021.

    Tres Hombres

    ABOVE: Tres Hombres: the progressive drops along the Upper Advanced Mountain Bike Trail allow riders to practice on manageable features before trying harder ones.

    Volunteers of all ages worked on the project
    Volunteers work on decking on one of the first features along 95th Street.
    Volunteers were an integral part of the project.

    ABOVE: Volunteers were critical in helping complete the project.

    ABOVE: The Sentry, the entry qualifier feature for the Upper Advanced Mountain Bike Trail, 95th Street.

    Locust Shade Poster
    Martin Fernandez

    Martín Fernández, a Prince William County resident since July of 2001, has been involved with the Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) since shortly after the club was founded in 1992. Martín has served in MORE’s Board of Directors on multiple occasions and is now MORE’s Trail Liaison to Locust Shade Park. Martín has written multiple trail cycling guides highlighting both road and off-road riding opportunities in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia. You can learn more about Martín at frescova.com & bestridesdc.com

    MIRE