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A 20-year partnership asks the public to help decide 

Visit an otherwise unremarkable Keezletown trailhead on a crisp October evening, and you’ll find a bustling scene of outdoor enthusiasts. Sharing the 32+ miles of linked mountainside trails are a regional youth mountain bike team, volunteer trail work crews, organized mountain bike rides, casual family excursions, and local joggers and bird watchers. 

All of these trail visitors are beneficiaries of a 20+ year partnership between Massanutten Resort, which owns the Western Slope lands, and the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition, who builds and maintains the trails while making them accessible to the broader community. The past several years have seen trail usage skyrocket, propelled by the inclusion of beginner-friendly trails and growing awareness of the quality and extent of the trails.

But as visitation increases, new questions arise: how will the trails handle increasing foot and bicycle traffic? Are new trailheads needed? What types of trails — from technical mountain bike jump lines to solitude-centering nature strolls — does the community most want to see? 

“As a community-based Coalition, we know that our role is to plan for and build trails to benefit generations beyond us,” says Kyle Lawrence, Executive Director of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition. “The impact of the existing trails on our local mountain biking community is already vast — they are a huge driver of local ridership and outdoor enthusiasm.

But future possibilities are just as expansive. The questions we’re asking now are: what’s next? How do we listen to the desires of our community and design outdoor experiences that respond to their needs?”

The current Community Outreach Survey sponsored by the Coalition extends beyond the usual platitudes into a request for real grassroots visioning, asking questions that speak to the possibility of greater connectedness, access, and community-driven design. They also point to the possibility of significant expansions. The existing trail system covers 800 acres and 32 miles of adventure.

Still, hundreds of additional acres of land wrap to the south along the Massanutten ridgeline, creating possible future connections to Route 33, Crosskeys Road, Rockingham Park at the Crossroads, and Massanutten Resort. 

While the Coalition leads the community engagement side of trail design, Massanutten Resort is a key partner in the master planning process. “Our goal is to create win-wins,” says Kenny Hess, Director of Sports and Risk Management for Massanutten Resort. “Massanutten Resort is always seeking to be a good community partner, and the Western Slope Trails showcase that. Partnering with the Coalition allows us to create quality trail systems that serve both the broader public and visitors of the Resort. We operate a state-of-the-art downhill Bike Park inside the main Resort Bowl. Still, the backcountry and cross-country experiences of the Western Slope trails are a truly unique community asset.” 

The online survey will remain open through mid-November, a period of time which will also see Applied Trails Research, a nationally-renowned trail planning firm, completing on-the-ground trail and terrain assessment. “Ultimately, our goal is to design a premier trail system that combines the best in community visioning with the unique topography and experiences of the Massanutten mountain,” says Lawrence. “At the end of the day, the Western Slope Trails should reflect the local community — its visions, its desires, its unique environment, and the wildness of the mountains and forests we’re all here to enjoy.”

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