A Brief History of the Fredericksburg Quarry Trails and FATMUG
Fredericksburg’s Rappahannock River bluffs on the upstream side of the John Warner rapids, are steep and heavily wooded. These characteristics have historically made the land impractical for farming or development while at the same time protecting the land’s rich natural beauty. A network of natural-surface trails meandering through the bluffs takes full advantage of the terrain’s relatively unscathed, inherent beauty. This trail network has evolved over many decades from mere traces of game trails into a well established, multi-use trail system prized by recreationalists from a variety of disciplines including mountain biking, hiking, bird watching and cross-country running.
Numerous individuals may lay claim to blazing the early trails at the Quarry, but many of these trails are what may be referred to as legacy trails, meaning that their creation date is so vague and distant that it cannot be accurately recorded. Legacy trails tend to follow the most direct route between two points regardless of the surrounding terrain and the legacy trails at the Quarry are no exception.
Trails blazed by local mountain bikers in the 1980’s often followed legacy trails and simply involved raking, pruning and riding the existing paths until they became worn into the topography. Not all trails evolved this way though, as other trails built around the same time period were constructed from scratch with an eye on recreational use. Such trails followed a more meandering route in order to take advantage of specific terrain features. Most of these trails remained on the heavily wooded hillside but some cut through farm fields and horse pastures atop the bluffs. During this time the Quarry and its surrounding trails were known more as a place to swim and drive 4X4’s than a place to bike. In the summer and on weekends, Jeeps and pick-ups could often be found navigating the dirt two-track roads used long ago by rock-hauling dump trucks. This 4X4 traffic kept the wider, two-track trails passable long after abandonment by the stone quarry’s operators.
Vehicular traffic waned over the late ‘80’s to early 90’s, most likely due to reduced access from encroaching development as well as police enforcement. Use of the trails by the small community of mountain bikers, on the other hand, remained fairly constant. As a result, the trails rewarded mountain bikers with a strong sensation of solitude and wilderness immersion. The reputation of the Quarry Trails for providing a challenging, escapist, primitive trail experience - the “Quarry Trail Experience” if you will – grew stronger by the year.
As the mountain bike boom of the early to mid 1990’s hit, word spread through the expanding cycling community about the excellent trails at the Quarry. While this period witnessed an increase in the number of riders, the total number of riders remained quite low. Perhaps the fact that the primary trailhead during this time was a dead end road tucked behind the Bragg Hill town houses played a role in keeping the number of riders in check (if you didn’t know the trailhead was there, then you certainly wouldn’t find it by accident). Despite an increase in the number of trail users, the gradually expanding mileage of trails meant that the chance of actually running across another person while in the woods was virtually zero and the overall user-based impact on the trails was barely noticeable.
In September of 2003, hurricane Isabelle cut a swath through Virginia, tearing down trees, eroding hillsides, and changing the courses of streams along the way. The Quarry trails were not spared. Anyone who tried to ride the trails after the storm found them frustratingly blocked. Most of the people who had been riding at the Quarry moved on to other local trails. However, a few dedicated Quarry Trail riders picked up their tools and began the long, slow process of putting the trails back together.
Wherever possible, downed trees were removed to reopen the original trails. Where the sheer number of massive trees made their removal all but impossible, re-routes were created to link the severed ends of original trail together. And where trail simply couldn’t be recovered because of washouts, lengthy new sections of trail were created. Some of the re-routes and new trails were hastily cut. Some were cut in poor locations out of convenience. Some were cut to maximize thrills. Sustainable trail construction practices were rarely applied, simply due to a lack of knowledge of such practices. Regardless, the Quarry Trails were reborn and the trail lovers flowed back in. It was also during this time period that a new trailhead was created at the end of the canal. The project of removing the Embry Dam required installation of a roadbed that tied the two-track road beside the upstream end of the canal to Wicklow drive. This new trailhead was easy to access from downtown and the canal path.
Not long after the major reconstructive post-Isabelle period, commercial development on the flat lands atop the bluffs began in earnest. Bulldozers consumed massive swaths of trees in a single day. Organized racing was also making its debut at the Quarry. When trail sections were lost to construction and a race was in the near future, the race promotion team would scramble to reconnect the broken network. Meanwhile several other trail builders, still working from the hurricane recovery, were in action. Additionally, folks who had been riding for decades weren’t always appreciative of the new trail styles and would make their own changes to the trails. The hands of these numerous builders were working simultaneously yet often disharmoniously. As the trail building frenzy heated up and the amount of useable space decreased, the uncoordinated efforts and lack of communication between trail builders began to rise to a boil.
A small but dedicated group of individuals could see that these uncoordinated efforts were already having a damaging effect on the Quarry Trail Experience. This group also recognized that the health of the land was at stake from erosion and overuse. Aware of the fact that similar circumstances in numerous locations across the country had historically led to a complete loss of mountain bike access, these individuals organized to form, the Fredericksburg Area Trail Management and User Group, FATMUG. With a stated mission of expanding and protecting mountain bike access to off-road trails in Fredericksburg, FATMUG focused not only on protecting the Quarry trails, but on protecting the Quarry Trail Experience.
Generally speaking, the trail network at the Quarry has remained unchanged since about 2008. Most trail building efforts since then have focused on improving the existing network for maximum sustainability.
No documented studies have been conducted to determine the total number of recreational trail users at the Quarry, but anecdotal evidence clearly indicates a steady increase in traffic with each passing year. 2010 and 2011 in particular saw substantially more mountain bikers and cross country runners than previous years. As the number of people seeking outdoor solitude and recreation continues to increase and the amount of available space decreases due to sprawl and in-fill, trails offering this quality of natural experience and convenient access to population centers have become a rarity. The Quarry trails are a true gem located right inside the City of Fredericksburg.
|< Prev||Next >|