The Fat Bike Heaven and New Trail Builds of Standing Rocks, with Video by Brian Davis
A history of glaciers and a new trail build gateway to the north.
Standing Rocks Cool Videos and Pics Included Below!
By Chris Schotz
Editor’s note: Silent Sports is honored to present the following story from Chris Schotz, a man passionate about his silent sports, not only in the doing, but also in the building of trails, now at Standing Rocks. Here he gives us the unique history of the trails he has helped shape for the future, for all to enjoy.
We could start this story 29,000 years ago, when receding glaciers left a terminal moraine bursting with hills, and the namesake erratic boulders of Standing Rocks County Park just east of Stevens Point. We could go back 100 years to the days of homesteaders in the hills and a railroad hauling freight past the back door of Standing Rocks on a line that would one day become the Tomorrow River Trail. That history is still hidden out there if you know where to look, but this is a lesson in trail history starting nearly 40 years ago, when Greg Marr founded this magazine—a story still being written in dramatic ways this summer.
For those not yet born in 1985, let’s go back to a day when skiers lined up on Bear Lake and started their race by climbing the alpine run at Standing Rocks. Those 15k of rollercoaster Nordic trails are still there and full of well-groomed thrills. Those were the autumns of the Cantilever Classic, when the first rigid-framed, cantilever-braked, toe-clipped steel mountain bikes zoomed through those prodigious hills. Back then, we loved riding bikes on ski trails, and Standing Rocks was host to one of the first ever WORS races.
Those were the days before the Internet, when race directors sent results in your self-addressed envelope, and athletes had only one reliable place to look for races. That was Silent Sports Magazine, an iconic piece of standard equipment for cyclists, skiers, and runners that Marr built into something to read about the Midwest.
Just before Christmas of 2003, Marr was out at the Iola Winter Sports Park not far from Standing Rocks, looking fit from a solid summer of training and prepping for a great Birkie. Gliding through the northwest corner of the Iola hills, he was taken from us at the age of 52 by a heart attack, a shock to everyone. A whiskey bottle can often be found on a bench that bears his name back there, and the Iola club still holds a Greg Marr Backwards Ski Day toward the end of every winter.
That was also the year when single-track came to Standing Rocks. Under the guidance of cycling machine, Scott Cole, a sample section of single-track was laid out as a University of Wisconsin Stevens Point senior project by Nate Cover, with the help of another student named Aaron Rogers (future world-famous trail builder, not the quarterback). On the new trail section’s demonstration day, Cover sold the idea to a skeptical Parks Board while Cole showed what it looked like to ride a bike through the woods. The pitch worked, and 13 miles of original Rake-N-Ride trails were unwound in an intricate pattern over the 524-acre park.
Rake-N-Ride trail is as it sounds. That first generation of single-track was built by removing vegetation by hand and then riding the line until it wore in over time. Features were never built, and trees were rarely removed. Rocks stayed in your path and were part of the fun. These tight lines still twist through Standing Rocks, a welcome challenge to old-school riders, but a bit foreign to younger riders who can get spoiled by next-generation flow trail.
On the brink of 50, I have to admit to getting a little spoiled myself by machine-built trails. I can’t ride rocks and roots all day anymore, and, as a builder, I can’t swing a Pulaski axe for 10 hours straight like I used to. I’ve learned to love machines, and it was my honor last summer to be hired to get on an excavator and shape the first flow trail in Standing Rocks. Scott Cole and the Hostel Shoppe were still involved, along with Jumping John Leek and Hilltop Mike Mitchell, as part of the Point Area Singletrack Association (PASTA). They brought together the funding and the leadership from the Portage County Parks Board, Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin.
[As promised: a cool video!]
The plan was to keep the existing old-school single-track and surround it with a machine-built flow loop full of jumps, rollers, and berms that would be sustainable in summer and navigable by groomers in winter. Six miles of this project were finished last July and the result was a rush of riders back to Standing Rocks. It’s a hilly place to build a trail, but not so steep that climbs and descents couldn’t be stretched out and feature-filled. There were just enough rocks to get your attention, but not so many that they get in the way.
As summer 2020 arrives, the final touches are going into the finished flow-loop, including an extended descent along the contour from a high summit to the shore of Bear Lake, and a downhill hub featuring up to seven runs. The finished trail map may look like someone was challenged to draw a spiraling crayon line over the entire area without any lines ever touching, but that tight configuration is just one of the charms of Standing Rocks. Riding the flow loop clockwise, followed by the old-school inner loop counter-clockwise, takes a rider over twenty miles of trail building history.
Mountain bike racing should have returned to Standing Rocks in June with an eclectic course that merges the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series with the Badger State Games. The BSG fat bike series will be visiting in February, and the dedication of the Portage County grooming staff will have the trails buffed out for winter-users of every stripe.
Last winter was the first for lighted skiing at Standing Rocks, and plans are underway to grow the night skiing loop from 1.7 miles to 3 miles soon. All users can take advantage of the brand new Behnke Olson Outdoor Recreation Center, a heated lodge with 24/7 bathroom access named for the Stevens Point Area Senior High (SPASH) cross-country coaches who were leaders in the creation of a dedicated 5,000-meter running course across the road from the bike and ski trailheads. In just a few years, Standing Rocks has grown from a nearly forgotten trail overrun by disc golfers to a silent sports destination. It is the new gateway to the north for silent sports athletes, the jumping-off point to a corridor of thriving trail stretching up Highway 51 from Stevens Point to the Michigan line.
Standing Rocks is a must destination, a silent sports gem, where you can also experience its rich history, from the glacial moraine to old-school trails to new. And now, a trail-build into the future. The magic waits for you.
Editor’s Note: The print version of this story incorrectly names the location of Greg Marr’s memorial bench and passing as Standing Rocks instead of the Iola Winter Sports Park. We deeply regret the error.
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