Point Lookout Trail (aka Old 70 Trail…aka Royal Gorge Trail) is a local treasure that local cyclists sometimes take for granted. But spend a little time riding with Julie White, chair of the Black Mountain Greenways Commission and tour guide for Adventure Cycling and you will learn the what cycling was like before the trail was constructed.
Originally, Point Lookout Trail was Route 70, and it was the main road leading from Old Fort (and most of eastern North Carolina) to Asheville.
When Interstate 40 was opened, this portion of Route 70 was closed and left abandoned, and mostly unused. Some hearty cyclists would use it as a “trail”, but the concrete highway was in very poor condition and there were some land use “issues”, shall we say, that made regular use of the ad hoc trail sketchy (a few locals weren’t happy about anyone using the trail).
Eventually, through efforts of people like Julie White, the right-of-way from U.S. Forest Service, and funding from NC DOT, the trail was paved and opened for recreation.
Today local road and mountain bike riders use this trail frequently. It completes the “Old Fort Loop” — a roadie favorite that includes Route 9, Old Fort Road, and Point Lookout Trail.
And it provides a quick (uphill) return to the (downhill) Kitsuma Trail for mountain bikers.
Over the past few years, heavy rains have taken a toll on our beloved trail and it is in bad need of repairs. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the trail will close for 90 days for the following repair work to be conducted:
“The trail will be closed from May 31 through September 1.
Work on the trail will include excavation around the slide [she is referring to the area that has been subject to multiple rock slides pictured below] construction of a retaining structure to prevent future slides, and repaving the road.
This is a big project that will require continuous work throughout the closure time. Because of safety concerns, we are not able to allow passage to the public through the area during construction.
Due to the nature of the work, which includes repaving a section of the trail, there are specific temperature requirements which limit the seasons in which we are able to complete the repairs. We would much rather see the work completed in the winter when the trail receives less use, but that was not an option in this case.”
— Lisa Jennings, Natural Resource Specialist, US Forest Service
[Note that U.S.F.S. originally posted a notice that the trail would be closed until October 31, which is not correct. The posted notice has been corrected, and we are happy to know that we will have use of the trail during autumn and for the Bookwalter Binge Gran Fondo.)
I will certainly enjoy the improvements when the trail reopens, but 90 days will seem like a long time as I find ways to reach McDowell County cycling routes without use of Point Lookout Trail.
The U.S.F.S. posted notice recommends that cyclists use Mill Creek Road as an alternate route, I am planning to make good use of this dirt & gravel option.
Mill Creek Road runs roughly parallel to Point Lookout Trail to the west, and I have ridden it many times on my (carbon) road bike with skinny 25mm tires. That said, as with any dirt/gravel road, the condition of the surface on any given day depends on moisture content, volume of motorized traffic, grading work, and the addition of new gravel. You might not find it comfortable, or even safe on your road bike in certain conditions.
So you will understand why I consider this perfect timing for N Plus One! My new gravel bike arrived a couple of weeks ago, and David’s is being finished at Liberty Bicycles now. While I will miss Point Lookout Trail this summer, I am looking forward to perfecting my gravel descending skills on Mill Creek Road…and I have 90 days to reach my goal. Better stop typing, and get on the bike!