A Place To Ride: Local man’s bike trails ranked No. 1Published 10:54am Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Click here to subscribe and skip the survey.
The crisp smell of pine trees pierces the air. Snaps of twigs and the clink of bike gears echo through the dirt trails, which stretch for miles into lush woods. Bikers race past in a blur of brightly colored suits, dashing over wooden bridges, across seesaws and around berms.
“You can forget everything. Sometimes you can ride to solve problems. It’s where you can really do some thinking,” said Johnny Smith, owner of Mt. Zion Trails in Brookhaven. “Sometimes you can ride just to get away from everything.”
Smith began biking almost 13 years ago as a way to stay healthy, but now the hobby has turned into his passion. When he is not working as a photographer, he spends hours riding, maintaining and adding to his nationally renowned mountain bike trail. He lives only 10 bicycle strokes from the trailhead.
Recently, the Mt. Zion trails were ranked No. 1 in Mississippi by singletracks.com, a site dedicated to mountain biking. Smith’s labor of love has become a destination trail for cyclists across the country. Smith said that he has had a visitor from every state except Vermont.
Smith began riding the Clear Springs trails in Louisiana where he fell in love with the first ride. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Louisiana trails in 2005, Smith looked to his backyard as a new playground.
“We just started walking around here looking for critter trails, really not knowing what we were doing. I never had any idea it was going to develop into what it has. We were just hunting for a place to ride,” said Smith. “It began as a solo effort, but it’s a community thing now. We’ve got a diversified group that add a lot of bike knowledge and trail experience. Everybody brings something. I couldn’t keep it up by myself.”
There are three trails that span his property: a nine-mile race loop, a two-mile trail and a one-mile trail for beginners. The trails are peppered various obstacles creating a unique experience for mountain bike enthusiasts from across the country.
“I love watching new people’s faces as they come up the hill after the first time they ride it,” said Smith. “They just smile and say, ‘wow, man this is different.’”
The bike trails are free and open to the public 24-seven. “Any age, any time, every day of the year,” said Smith. There is a donation box, but he does not require any user fees. All money collected goes to trail upkeep.
“If you gotta have a habit, you might as well have one that is healthy,” said Smith.
Mt. Zion hosts several races throughout the year. The trail is the third stop for the Mississippi off-road racing series in which over a hundred bikers participate. The next race is scheduled for the fall. Mt. Zion also has a Mt. Zion race team that travels across the south for competitions.
The trails also cater to local organizations and schools. Mt. Zion hosts high school cross country team practices and Boy Scouts training exercises. Local trail runners and walkers also use the track regularly.