School of Singletrack: The Rise of On-Campus Trails in Charlottesville

May 31, 2024

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In the heart of Virginia, nestled amidst Albemarle County, a trail-building revolution is underway.

Eight NICA teams dot the region. An unprecedented four have accessible, well-maintained, on-campus trails. Two of these are public high schools without tuition dollars to support the infrastructure necessary for building mountain bike trails.

So how did Charlottesville become the gold standard for school-based trail systems?

The spark can be traced back to the Miller School of Albemarle, which has boasted on-campus trails for over a decade. With over 14 miles of trails, locals lovingly refer to it as the ‘Hogwarts’ of cycling. Their team’s success at both local and national events was an inspiration to other NICA teams in the area; first Monticello High School in Charlottesville, and then Western Albemarle High School (WAHS) in nearby Crozet.

The culture of trail building had also been well established thanks to the hard work of the local IMBA Chapter, the Charlottesville-area Mountain Bike Club (CAMBC). Their steadfast commitment to advocacy work meant that many community members already understood the importance of trail building and access, and some of the WAHS team members had experience volunteering to maintain trails.

But bringing 3.5 miles of trail to the land surrounding WAHS would take more than inspiration. Team founders John and Colleen Compton knew this, were up to the task, and plans began taking shape. Fueled on by the determination of Coach Wayne Fusco (and his son Kai), who became head coach after the Comptons’ students graduated, and with guidance from CAMBC, things really ramped up.

“Wayne likes a challenge and big projects,” said Jason Chupick, WAHS coach and father to freshman Henry Chupick.

“He and his son Kai organized work party days, using borrowed tools from CAMBC. We built bridges using lumber donated by Cardinal Building Supply, and a generous donation from SRAM allowed us to purchase the remaining necessary tools and materials. The whole WAHS team pitched in, with Kai’s core group of three friends putting in an estimated 900 hours of hard work, including senior and Captain Ben Johnston, senior Harper Foster, and junior Carter Maples.”

In some ways, the trail work was the easy part. The team had to raise money, communicate with stakeholders at the school, and seek approvals. “It may sound simple, but it’s complicated in terms of the moving parts of both permissions and of the labor. It took diligence on the part of Wayne and his counterpart at Monticello High School, coach Sam Lindblom, who is also CAMBC’s vice president.”

Despite the challenges, the community is already feeling the benefits of the new trail system. In particular, the impact of bringing trails closer to kids has been evident to Jason. By having trails on campus, a wider range of kids have access to the sport— ranging from kids who want to borrow a bike and try a lap, to student-athletes looking to train in a structured, time efficient manner. It’s also great for the student body, teachers, and administrators to see the trail being built and drum up interest in the sport. It’s brought several new athletes to the team who are new to mountain biking. We’re sure more will join in the seasons to come.”

In November of 2023, the trail opened after many months of hard work.

The team celebrated by hosting a scrimmage event with three other public schools from the area. They awarded the winners donuts, enjoyed the company of their friends, and celebrated the end of a successful NICA season.

As for the legacy of the Western Albemarle trails, the team’s goal is to share their story to inspire others to take on similar challenges. We hope the opening of the Western course will put on display what’s possible when people work together. There’s a reason it’s one of the fastest-growing school sports in America, but it really hits home when people can watch a race and ride the trails themselves!”