This weekend, Jacksonville will get the chance to discover one of its little known natural treasures. On Saturday, October 19, a trail run will be hosted at the Henry Farm Trails behind RMC Jacksonville.
“If you look at the Jacksonville Hospital from Route 21 head on, there’s a big hill behind it. That hill’s covered in mountain biking trails, [which cover] 3.5 miles,” said Dr. Carmine Di Biase, professor of English at Jacksonville State University. The trail is accessed through Henry Farm Park, where participants will park for the event.
“The trail run is part of a national series called Xterra, which means off-road,” said Di Biase. “This is a series and people compete to see if they can get a high rank in the series.”
The trail run will include a health festival that will offer yoga and Pilates instruction, free health screenings by RMC Hospital in Jacksonville, and locally grown fruits and vegetables sold by the Jacksonville City Farmers Market. Other vendors at the event will include Java Jolt, who will be providing coffee for the runners, and Roma’s Pizza, who will offer a 30% discount to runners. Following the race will be a guided tour of the trail.
“When I mentioned [the trail] to Tim Schroer, he said absolutely we can use another venue and add another race to the series. He liked what we had to offer... the park makes for an ideal location for a trail run,” said Di Biase.
“When I let the city council know, I got a call from Johnathon Tompkins, he’s a city council member... and he’s on fire about this trail and this trail run. He had the imagination to turn this into a comprehensive health festival, which we hope to be able to repeat year after year.”
Those interested in running in the competition can register the morning of the event. The registration fee is 40 dollars.
Those registering can also register online before October 11 at dirtyspokes.com for an early registration fee of 35 dollars. Registration starts at 7 a.m. and the race starts at 8:30 a.m.
Awards will be offered for the top three male and top three female runners. Runners will also be judged in different age categories and the winner of each category will be given an award.
“Even the IMBA, the International Mountain Biking Association, which has directed and is continuing to direct the building of Coldwater trail, acknowledge that it is important to have these smaller, local trails, surrounding the big one, because they help to sustain an interest and to spark an interest in mountain biking among younger folks and people who are just beginning to get into mountain biking who don’t want to go very far,” said Di Biase.
Along with other members of the North East Alabama Bicycling club, Dr. Di Biase built the trail on city property with the permission of the city. The trail includes 3.5 miles of mountain biking trail and one half mile of walking trail.
“This trail is also an arboretum. This is something that my wife, Susan, has accomplished,” said Di Biase. “She has a good deal of passion for the green world and she made it possible to have money donated and resources donated to label the trees on this land. It’s a quite beautiful piece of land. It’s not the typical hill with a bunch of weedy pine trees. There are hardwoods back there that are precious.
“It was a lot of fun to build and it was hard work, but it was a lot of fun. It strengthened the cycling community, especially the part of it that are interesting in mountain biking,” said Di Biase. “This one of my favorite trails. It’s a difficult trail, it’s slow, but it’ll make you work, especially if you do it twice or three times.”
Xterra conducts trail runs and other competitions throughout the country, including the Monte Sano National Park Family Bike Trail in Huntsville, Alabama; the Cheaha Express mountain at the Cheaha State Park in Delta, Alabama; and the recently built Coldwater Mountain trail in Anniston.
“[The Coldwater mountain trail is] a new biking trail and it’s one of the best in the country [and] it’s certainty going to be one of the top two or three trails in the whole country,” said Di Biase. “It’s just off of Route 202 in Anniston... it’s now owned by [the State of Alabama] Forever Wild [Organization], and they have allowed IMBA, the International Mountain Biking Association, to build up to 60 or 80 miles of mountain biking trails there. They’ve already built 15 which makes it already a very sizable trail.”
“Since the students at JSU change here, it’s hard to keep them informed that the trail exists,” said Di Biase. “It’s important to use these resources if we’re going to keep them. That’s one of the nicer things that will happen after the race.”
Dirty Spokes organizes the Xterra trail runs for the states of Alabama and Georgia. A full schedule for all trail runs in the state of Alabama can be found at dirtyspokes.com. For those interested in volunteering for the event or in helping to manage the Henry Farm Trails, please contact Dr. Di Biase at firstname.lastname@example.org.