One of North Carolina’s most iconic mountain bike trails is getting a face-lift. The Itusi Trail, in Lake Norman State Park outside of Charlotte, was one of the first mountain bike-specific trails built in North Carolina’s state park system. In 2003, the Tarheel Trailblazers built Hawk Loop, a 3-mile loop on the shore of Lake Norman. In the last 15 years, the trail club has grown that original piece of singletrack into the Itusi Trail, a 30.5-mile system divided into eight different loops. Now, the club is set to do $20,000 worth of work on the original Hawk Loop.
“This trail has seen thousands of riders over the years, so many tire tracks,” says Will Washam, volunteer trail coordinator for the Tarheel Trailblazers. “There was a time when that was the only trail in the park. A lot of folks have made laps on the Hawk Loop.”
Hawk Loop traverses the Hicks Creek ravine, passing through a hardwood forest with an open forest floor on the edge of the lake. It’s a beginner-friendly trail with easy access from the Lake Norman Visitor’s Center, so it receives a lot of attention from families and new mountain bikers looking for a short ride. A decade and a half of solid use have left a number of stretches of singletrack in bad shape, particularly old segments of trail that follow the fall line, which are quick to erode. This year, the Tarheel Trailblazers received a $10,000 grant from REI Charlotte, and are working to raise funds to match that grant. With the $20,000, the club will hire pros and heavy machinery to reroute the fall line sections of trail, building more sustainable singletrack that uses the natural contour of the land.
“We’ll reroute almost a mile of trail, and the end result will be even more beginner friendly,” Washam says, adding that completing the work on Hawk Loop will free up the club’s volunteers to maintain other pieces of the Itusi Trail throughout the year. The club maintains more than 100 miles of trail in the Charlotte area, but the Itusi demands a significant amount of the club’s time and energy, particularly the older sections of trail that weren’t built with sustainability in mind.
The Itusi is known for its fast, flowy loops, most of which don’t have steep climbs or many technical root or rock gardens, giving it broad appeal to a variety of mountain bikers. Washam says the Itusi is the most heavily trafficked trail system that the club maintains, but it still offers riders a backcountry experience because the state park’s acreage is so vast that the trails could be designed without much overlap.
“The Itusi adds so much to Lake Norman,” says Joy Shuck, the outdoor programs and outreach market coordinator for REI Charlotte. “It’s an important resource for bikers and our Co-op members in general.”
Shuck says REI staff will also get their hands dirty and help with the trail work after the pros rough cut the new trail with mini-excavators. Trail work is expected to begin in November, and the new Hawk Loop should be ready to ride by the end of winter.