Marshall County and the Lake District have attracted anglers, boaters and campers for years, making the area a premier destination. Now, the success of a recent state mountain bike race could potentially open the door for additional visitors to enjoy the local environment and possibly a new economic avenue.
Kentucky Dam Village State Park hosted the Kentucky First Inter-School Cycling League (KICL) State Championship on October 24 with nearly 150 participants affiliated with a dozen Marshall County teams (which has won his eighth state title) and a composite team of runners from McCracken County Schools and Paducah to Clark County in east-central Kentucky.
“It’s been a really good weekend,” said Steve Beckett, former head coach of the Marshall County mountain bike team and co-founder and director of KICL. “It helps when the weather is good. People like to go out. We have food trucks and various amenities for them. So when you can sit here by the lake, enjoy a breeze and it’s not too hot like our other races, everyone loves it.
“It was good for the park (and) for Calvert City,” he added.
Besides the surroundings, Beckett said the first-ever National Mountain Bike Championship offered a glimpse of a new sport and its potential to gain momentum in a sporting state best known for hoops, horses and hunting. .
“I think the people who came and had never been to a race before were probably too impressed,” he said. “They didn’t realize what everything is involved; the establishment, the infrastructure put in place. It takes a small army to do that.
This army has recruited volunteers and increased its numbers in Marshall County and Kentucky since the idea sprouted in Beckett’s head in 2012 to find a competitive school cycling organization for his son Carson, who was a freshman. year at MCHS.
In 2013, Tennessee launched their mountain bike league and Beckett approached officials there if his son and a Kentucky team could compete in the Volunteer State. With their approval and that of Marshall County school officials, Marshall had the first and only mountain bike team affiliated with the school in the Bluegrass.
Sixteen student bikers were part of this inaugural team in 2013, which each won the Tennessee State Championships until 2019, which was the last time Marshall County competed with this league before the last year does not cancel its season and that the KICL is formed.
Beckett said the formation of the new team provided an additional opportunity for students to showcase their talents for Marshall County. “It is the pride of children who do not participate in traditional sports; get the Marshall County logo and be recognized at Meet the Marshals and feel like they are part of a college program, even if it is not part of the (Kentucky High School Athletic Association). ”
Still, the goal was to develop interest and sport at home. To do this, Beckett and the core of Marshall’s team and boosters had to ask other people from all over Kentucky to see what Tennessee was doing. They encouraged people to form individual or composite teams from two or three schools to participate.
“They witnessed it and said, ‘Hey, we need this in Kentucky,’” Beckett recalls. “I said to myself: ‘No kidding! “”
After pitching the idea to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) and forming teams in Lexington, Louisville and Elizabethtown, they were approved two years ago to form the KICL for its start-up season in 2021.
This inaugural year had five races starting at Barren River State Park, Capitol View Park in Frankfort, Buffalo Lake in Elizabethtown and Veterans Park in Lexington before ending at Kentucky Dam Village for the state meet.
And there are other programs besides racing within the NICA and state leagues. There is a girls-only program called GRIT (Girls Riding Together), a scout-like program called the Teen Trail Corps where bikers earn badges for community services such as trail maintenance and park cleaning, and a program adventure more oriented towards exploration, “biking and hiking” and overnight camping.
Five years ago, Beckett created the Marshall County Mountain Bike Trail which covers approximately 10 miles. In recent years, he said they’ve created a trail system in Livingston County, Eddyville and Land Between the Lakes.
With KICL, whose board of directors includes Carson Beckett, Michael Yarbrough of Benton and Ralph Jennings of Grand Rivers, and continued to promote mountain biking in Western Kentucky, the area could potentially be an adventure destination. similar to the Red River Gorge site in eastern Kentucky near Natural Bridge State Park. , which attracts climbers from all over the world to their cliffs.
“If you count Land Between the Lakes, you have almost 100 miles at four sites,” Beckett said. “People can come and spend the money and walk a different trail every day for three or four days.
“Communities that have a bike culture, they start building these bike destination parks where they have a pump track for the kids, skill zones where you can ride logs and ledges, and you have trails. “, he added. “These are the people who get it and attract people for days.”