(GSMNP) The National Park Service issued a decision and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Wears Valley Mountain Bike Trail System Environmental Assessment (EA).
In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Park Service (NPS) prepared an EA to examine alternatives and environmental impacts associated with a proposed mountain bike trail system within the Wears Valley portion of Foothills Parkway Section 8D, Sevier County, Tennessee. The purpose of the project is to enhance visitor experience by providing a mountain bike trail as a unique recreational opportunity in this area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Park). Previous NPS planning efforts completed between 1968 and 1984 identified Section 8D as one of the most desirable areas for recreational development. While more than 800 miles of trails exist in the Park, fewer than 8 miles are designated for biking. Public roads within the Park are open to biking, but no purpose-built mountain biking trails currently exist.
The EA analyzed the no-action alternative and three action alternatives for construction of a mountain bike trail system. Based on the analysis presented in the Revised EA, which was available for public review from February 8 – March 10, 2022, and after considering public comments, NPS selected alternative 3 (Proposed Action and NPS preferred alternative) for the development of a mountain bike trail system if construction and annual operational monies become available. Under the selected alternative and pending available funding, the NPS would construct a mountain bike trail system with approximately 4.2 miles of easy trail, 2.9 miles of moderate trail, and 4.7 miles of advanced trail for a total of 11.8 miles of mountain bike trails. The selected alternative would also include approximately 2.3 miles of pedestrian-only trails in the project area for a total of 14.1 miles of trails. An approximately 0.93-mile access road would also need to be constructed to access the mountain bike trail system and trailhead. Amenities at the trailhead would include a bike wash and repair station, restrooms, and picnic tables. An informational kiosk for orientation, trail etiquette, and rules for mountain biking would also be constructed at the trailhead.
“We understand the public’s desire to have a purpose-built bike trail, and this marks a step for potential future development of a trail in Wears Valley,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “Having the signed FONSI allows us the opportunity to explore potential funding paths for both the construction and the annual operational costs.”
Next steps include a business analysis by the NPS to examine possible operational strategies for a mountain bike trail system. The selected alternative may also include a concession/bike rental building and/or a fee collection station, depending on the identified operational strategy. No funding for construction has yet been identified.
The FONSI and NPS responses to comments on the EA and associated documents are available for viewing online via the Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website at: Parkplanning – Wears Valley Mountain Bike Trail System (nps.gov).