An uphill climb: biggest little trail in MS

Published 10:23 am Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Off Old Red Star Road in northwest Lincoln County there are bike trails – a whole web of them – stretching across a piece of 16th-section land dotted with blackberry bushes, tall pines and creek beds that fill and empty as quick as an afternoon rain.

The Mt. Zion Trails (the MZs, for those in the know) are frequented by serious rough riders from near and far. I am not in that elite wheeling-and-dealing group. I am a keep-your-feet-planted-on-solid-ground type of girl who somehow found herself running on Trail B Saturday morning rather than getting reacquainted with my flowerbeds, as planned. When your child joins a cross-country team, mulching drops in importance. Yes, pretty much to last on the list.

As I broke away from the pack (i.e. got left in the dust) I found myself admiring the scenery along the trail. With no one to push me and my hamstrings to extremes, I took breathers by foot-high waterfalls and a photo to prove my whereabouts to a certain turkey hunter I know. I even took time to read remarks scribbled by my fellow travelers, their names and dates hung out for all the world to see – surprisingly enough – on a clothesline filled with blue jeans. Yes, you got it: “Jim wuz here 8-19-12” and such sharpied on a dozen pairs of frayed Levis suspended by their belt loops. Pretty artsy for a bike trail, don’t you think?

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Touches like that, along with what online reviewers call “trail candy” – dirt berms, a 14-foot seesaw, jumps, and spiraled wooden bridges – are why the bikers’ website Singletracks has rated the MZ trails number 25 in the world. That’s out of some 7,000 biking trail systems, and it’s all right here for us locals to enjoy.

And no one enjoys it more than the man behind the mountain bike, Johnny Smith. The trails began as his brainchild in 2007, and Smith has more than a casual interest in them since they’re located at his backdoor. He and some 10 others make up the MZ crew, a group responsible for maintaining the trails and digging into their pockets to cover lease, tax and insurance costs, keeping the establishment privately funded.

“It’s really a community effort. There’s no way I could keep this thing up by myself,” Smith was careful to point out. “The growth it’s seen in the last five years is entirely because of our crew. They ride a lot, and they work more than they ride.”

Smith and crew member Steve Rials were out by the pavilion on the morning our team arrived. They were loading a $250 load of lumber into Rials’s truck in anticipation of a bridge repair on the six-mile loop. Bridge repair has been a big push in recent months.

“We’re using treated lumber and making them able to sustain the pounding of runners,” explains Smith. He adds that bikers still have the right-of-way at MZ, but their group is making efforts to see that the trails are more runner-friendly. The crew is also preparing for an upcoming Forestry Service controlled burn of the property. The main task is raking pine straw away from wooden structures, a work compounded by recent hail.

Watching from the sidelines, I couldn’t help but ask what keeps Smith and Rials and the rest of the MZ crew motivated. Surely there are flowerbeds calling their name, too.

Smith was quick with an answer. “It’s the smiles riders have when they finish their first lap and come back up to the pavilion to rack their bikes. They’re always grinning,” he said, adding that the MZ trails are different from others in the region because of their features. “Ninety-nine percent of bike trails are just dirt. Not ours.” He went on to tell me about a newcomer to Brookhaven he met recently who chose to move here rather than Chattanooga. “He picked this area because of the MZ trails,” Smith recalled. “Hearing that meant a lot.”

Visitors arriving at Mt. Zion can expect to choose from four marked trails ranging from one to nine miles in length. A kiosk contains descriptions of the options, including a two-mile, family-friendly loop appropriate for beginners. Upon their return, trail-blazers can expect to find three new porch swings (courtesy of an Eagle Scout from Brandon), a refrigerator, an outdoor shower and other niceties. I can tell you the Brookhaven Home Educators Cross Country team found the swings, as well as the trails, to their liking.

And we’re not the only ones. Smith said the site has welcomed visitors from every state in the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska and seven different countries. “Earlier this year we had two guys from two different parts of Canada riding on the same day,” he noted.

Which makes one of Smith’s comments hard to understand.

“We have more folks come to our trails from Baton Rouge than we do from Brookhaven,” he told me.

After spending such an enjoyable morning at the MZs, I can only shake my head at that. Maybe we locals give our flowerbeds way too high of a priority.


Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at