Craig Riddle remembers when a trail ride in this region was a double challenge: finding a trail and not getting lost. He has helped change things for the better.
Craig Riddle wants to bring the people together. It may be hard for some to imagine a time when the Roanoke Valley was not criss-crossed by trails. Trail systems dot the landscape so pervasively these days they have become ingrained in our minds as permanent, flowing forever in the future and the past. This was not always the case of course; there is always a beginning.
During his undergraduate studies at Virginia Tech in the early 1990s, Riddle was there for the beginning. Back then, established trails were sparse and trail systems rudimentary. Riddle went from cruising his bike around campus to tackling Brush Mountain, where there were only a couple of trails cut in and the rest was basically riding through the woods. Pandapas Pond only had four parking spots, so driving to the trailhead was not usually an option. This is the mountain biking version of walking to school in bare feet uphill both ways. “None of the trails were there the way they are now, and we were on basically first-generation mountain bikes,” Riddle recalls. “Back then you would get lost all the time.”
Riddle left the saddle for a while, but returned to mountain biking during his graduate studies, again lured to the trails around Virginia Tech and Blacksburg. Along with his ride mileage, his involvement in local trail groups steadily rose. He is currently the president at the Roanoke Chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association (RIMBA).
The group is presently working on adding more trails to Mill Mountain’s system, among other projects like the new Lakeside Trail at Carvins Cove, but fostering a community spirit among the active community is a large focus, says Riddle. While he is quick to point out that the outdoor community is in no ways weak, he is looking to connect all athletes, not just mountain bikers.
“There are a lot of really good riders and a lot of people who have a good time in the outdoors,” he says. “Roanoke tends to have different groups that are not all connected and we are hoping to bring everyone together.”
RIMBA plans to bring mountain bikers, trail runners, road bikers and anyone who likes to stay fit and enjoy the outdoors together for socials to grow this sense of community and hopefully encourage more trail work sessions involving different users.
Like a lot of the riders that have seen the amazing trail systems emerge from the sweat, elbow grease, and patience over the past two decades, Riddle understands the results are a shared asset. Luckily, we have an outdoors community that is willing to embrace newcomers.
“That’s the thing that is great about this region,” he says. “I appreciate that Roanoke has people that are willing to work with beginners and bring people into the sport.”
Craig Riddle’s Pick
1. Carvins Cove – Botetourt County
At 12,000 acres, Carvins Cove Natural Reserve is the second largest municipal park in the nation and largest conservation easement in Virginia’s history. The 40 miles of trail are ideal for mountain biking, and contain everything from epic climbs and fire roads to steep downhills. Beginners and intermediate riders can stay on the lower trails such as Songbird, Arrowhead, and Enchanted Forest for a fun ride with the occasional challenge.
Once you are confident on the lower trails, graduating to the trails on the upper mountain is easy. Riddle recommends the classic Bowtie Rides for advanced riders. The Easy Bowtie figure eight route begins at the Bennett Springs lot and climbs Buck, then takes the fire road to descend down Gauntlet, follows the reservoir across on Horse Pen (where Richard Blackwood pauses in photo at right), up Tough, then back down Hi-Dee-Hoe to the trailhead for a 12-mile loop. Looking for a bigger challenge? Reverse the order for the Hard Bowtie loop.
2. Dody Ridge – Montvale
Get your backcountry riding fix close to home with this 12-mile advanced loop. Dody Ridge starts with a brutal 1,500-foot climb over three miles, but also includes a spell on the Blue Ridge Parkway with great views, long downhill stretches, technical ridgeline sections, and numerous rock gardens. This is a great warmup for tackling some of the region’s longer backcountry rides like Dragon’s Back – just be sure to bring your tools!
3. Douthat State Park – Millboro
With over 40 miles of trail, this jewel of the Virginia State Park System has something for every rider. Long climbs lead to scenic views then long, flowy descents on pristine trails; so pristine, Riddle says the old-timers think the trails are “too smooth.”
4. Pandapas Pond – Blacksburg
Also known as Poverty Creek for its namesake drainage, Pandapas Pond was one of the original trail systems in Blacksburg. The Poverty Creek Trail is an easy cruiser with numerous side trails offering a more technical singletrack of the steep and rocky variety.
5. Mill Mountain – Roanoke
The locals’ trail system, Mill Mountain is accessible from anywhere around town since it is right in the middle of Roanoke. While this system is great for a quick after-work ride, climbing to the top is no picnic.