For the last few years, Tracy Toler has been building trails at Ridenour Lake in Nitro. As a mountain biking enthusiast and Nitro resident, Toler gladly donated his time to help improve his community’s opportunities for outdoor pursuits.
He and a small group of friends have used hand tools to carve out about five miles of single-track path suitable for biking, hiking and trail running. The new trails are on the hillside above the existing Ridenour Lake Trail.
Now, he’s working with city officials to take the improvements to a new level. In April, the city purchased 249 acres of land adjoining the lake for $400,000. The land was formerly owned by the Haikal family.
“Originally, the city owned 60 acres, and 28 of that was the lake. So, everything at Ridenour was squeezed onto about 30 acres. This new land will be used for a modern hiking and biking trails system,” Toler said.
He’s working on master plan that could give the park 15 to 20 miles of new trails. He said these will be machine-built flow trails – the type desired by mountain biking enthusiasts. He hopes to have the whole system completed in two to three years.
But improvements at Ridenour Lake include far more than new trails. Toler helped write a federal grant that brought in $125,000 for upgrades last year, which the city matched.
Improvements underway include a new timber-plank shelter, two new ADA-compliant docks, a kayak launch, new restrooms, a paved parking lot, a revamped and upgraded dog park and a new playground.
In addition, the park’s dirt pump track — a looped course of rollers and banked turns used by mountain bikers to build skills — will be upgraded and paved.
“This is the most movement Ridenour Lake has ever seen at one time,” Toler said. “It’s always been a nice lake. We got the ball rolling for other types of recreation besides fishing.”
Joe Stevens, director of the Nitro Convention and Visitors Bureau, thinks the upgrades have the potential to make the spot a recreation getaway.
“Ridenour Lake is providing visitors another fun reason to visit Nitro,” he said. “It helps us attract all types of outdoor enthusiasts, from mountain bikers to runners to fishermen to bird watchers. There is something for everyone.”
Toler hopes the work and improvements will lead to Nitro hosting more racing events. They’ve hosted one race so far. “We had 72 people for that,” he said.
“The terrain around Ridenour is perfect for mountain bikes. We have some rocky cliffs and overlooks that look down into St. Albans.”
For downhill, Toler said he expects the trail to have about a 325-foot elevation drop.
In addition to being a serious rider himself, Toler is also a National Interscholastic Cycling Association coach and member of the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association.
“My team, the Putnam County Pedalers, practices here. We had our first race at Canaan Valley in August. It was a NICA mountain bike race for kids, all middle and high school age. We had 242 kids racing. That’s pretty big.”
One sign of riding’s growing popularity is a new business. “Nitro hasn’t had a bike shop in 25 years. Now, we have a bike shop half a mile from the lake,” he said, referring to Pete’s Bike Shop, which opened about a year ago.
“That’s what happens. Trails can make an impact and help support the local economy,” Toler said. “We want to make this a destination appealing enough so people will drive three or four hours to get here.”
Nitro’s business community, understandably, is fully behind that goal.
“After having a great experience at the lake, visitors can try out some of our restaurants, or even do a little antiquing,” Stevens said. Nitro is home to a number of antique shops.
While the trail work is ongoing, most of the lake’s other improvements should be ready for use this fall, according to city officials.
Toler has designed and built trails and courses at other places across the state. “Last winter, I built an NICA race course at Twin Falls State Park,” he said. He’s working currently on a downhill single-track course at Heritage Farm Museum & Village in Huntington.
In fact, Toler likes building trails so much, he’s made it into a business.
“I own a small business called Adventure Trail Systems. It’s helped me get through the pandemic. I spend all day in the woods some days. It’s great.”
For more information about Adventure Trail Systems, go to adventuretrailsystems.com.