Big Creek Adds More Adrenaline-Pumping Mileage off the Beaten Track
September 16, 2022 by Rose Nemunaitis

It’s no secret fresh air and physical activity are good for the body, and the thrill of mountain biking continues to soar across the nation.

It’s no secret fresh air and physical activity are good for the body, and the thrill of mountain biking continues to soar across the nation.

Good opportunities to bike in the woods used to be hard to find for area mountain biking enthusiasts — but not anymore, said Daryl Breedlove, a devoted mountain biker who discovered road cycling in his 20s before switching to mountain biking.

“(Geauga Park District’s Big Creek Park in Chardon) is starting to become a super place to mountain bike,” said Breedlove, now in his 60s, who uses the sport to help him stay fit and healthy.

Breedlove lives six miles away from Big Creek’s single-track mountain bike trail — the first of its kind for the park district which opened it in 2020.

GPD, in partnership with Cleveland Area Mountain Biking, continues to add more white-knuckling fun to the growing trail.

CAMBA’s mission is to create, preserve, promote, protect and enhance diverse and enjoyable trail experiences for mountain bikers throughout Northeast Ohio.

“Thanks to a lot of people inside and out of the park district, the mountain biking trail at Big Creek is nearing completion of its second phase,” said Mike Ryba, CAMBA treasurer and trail designer.

The trail opened with 2.05 miles. The entire wide loop of the mountain bike trail — once the phase 2 addition is complete — will total 4.6 miles.

“It’s a beautiful trail for me because it’s so close,” Breedlove said. “The closest trail other than Big Creek, something that’s mountain bike-specific, would be Bedford and (Big Creek is) actually becoming more popular for me than Bedford now.”

Mountain Road Cycles Service Manager Russell Brown is also happy about the new trail addition, which keeps his popular shop on Chardon Square very busy with outdoor activities continuing to boom post COVID-19 pandemic.

Ryba’s trail system master plan, submitted to the park for approval and input, will result in about five and a half miles of trails when finished.

“The park and CAMBA purposely chose to complete the easier, beginner-friendly terrain first,” Ryba said.

The newer part goes through a much more dramatic landscape, including ravines, longer climbs, descents, a bluff and what’s called exposure.

“That’s when a trail is built on the side of a steep slope and one side of you is exposed to the steep bank,” Ryba said.

Included are a few places with the option to jump your bike and U-shaped features called “G-outs,” which makes this newer part of the trail more challenging, he said.

“A newer or very junior rider may want to walk parts of it until their skill level is fully intermediate,” Ryba said. “It’s not considered an advanced trail because there are no rocky areas to get hurt and the trail is still typically 3 feet wide. At four and a half miles, the trail will be worth it to attract a steady flow of people — not just people who happen to live and or work nearby. This was one of the requirements CAMBA wanted in the original plan.”

The addition will be on the northern end and about a mile in length.

“Throughout the loop, riders will get to enjoy a beautiful landscape of mature oak trees, ferns and wildlife,” Ryba said. “In my opinion, it’s a much more diverse and attractive landscape than what you find in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.”

In addition, CAMBA volunteers and a paid contractor have continued to make improvements, including armoring or bridging wet sections.

“Overall, the building of the trail itself has been about 60% CAMBA grants/labor and 40% park resources,” Ryba said. “They have plans for trailhead amenities, such as a kiosk and picnic area shelter that will result in about a 50/50 cost split.”

Ryba also sees plenty of hikers and runners using the trail and people of all ages express to him they really enjoy it.

“We are excited to provide this experience for our residents,” GPD Executive Director John Oros said. “The extension of our single-track mountain bike trail at Big Creek Park shows our commitment to getting people outdoors.”

Bill Gibson, who owns Blue Sky Bicycles in Lake County, said mountain biking has definitely gained in popularity over the years.

“Cleveland Metroparks got a new director about six or so years back who saw the benefits of having trails and what it’s done for other parts of the country … (increasing) tourism and small businesses, especially restaurants and microbreweries,” Gibson said.

He said the Metroparks started out working with CAMBA to build, maintain and monitor trails in their parks and they now have over a dozen trails in the area, with many being expanded, along with Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

“However, it seemed all the trails were on the west side or south near Stow and Akron and we Lake and Geauga County residents up in the northeastern corner were feeling left out,” Gibson said. “The nearest trail was in Bedford Heights and after work, traffic was usually a mess on (Interstate) 271.”

Gibson said local riders loved it that Big Creek let them put in a new trail.

“CAMBA volunteers, led by Mike Ryba, put in a lot of hard work improving drainage and making the trail sustainable and ridable in most all weather,” Gibson said. “This made it much better. Local riders were saying if they added some more mileage, this trail would become one of the best in the area. And voila — this trail has some more demanding climbs and descents, and that’s exactly what we were hoping for. I am seeing new riders just getting into the sport show up at Big Creek, as well as CAMBA regulars — and the feedback has been awesome.”

Fall can be the perfect time to check out the trail before the weather changes — it will close late in the year and reopen in spring.

“A single-track mountain bike trail didn’t exist in 27 Geauga parks,” Oros said. “We’ve lived up to our promise to Geauga County residents to provide something for everyone as it relates to parks, recreation and enjoying nature in their Geauga Park District. This is another example of our commitment to park accessibility and expanded opportunities for our residents.  We’ve had beautiful weather this summer and fall is shaping up nicely. We hope our residents take advantage of the beautiful weather and get outdoors to enjoy this trail at one of our most beautiful parks.”