Story by Graham Averill
Photos by Jeff Greenough
Chris Scott’s professional mountain bike career essentially ended in 1997 when he was hit by a car. Not to sound insensitive, but it could be seen as a fortuitous accident, at least for East Coast mountain bikers. Scott couldn’t recover from the spiral leg fracture fast enough to compete, so he quit the Trek Factory Racing team and started Shenandoah Mountain Touring and the Shenandoah Mountain 100 in the same year. Mountain biking in Virginia would never be the same. Shenandoah Mountain Touring set the standard for backcountry guiding in the Mid-Atlantic, and the SM100 helped usher in a golden age of endurance racing. And that was just the beginning. Since 1999, Scott has helped broker a truce between the mountain-bike community and Wilderness advocates, cleared an ungodly amount of singletrack in the George Washington National Forest, and more recently, pioneered the Virginia Mountain Bike Trail, a cross-state route that travels 480 miles through Virginia’s rugged backcountry, mostly on singletrack.
Not enough? How about this: Scott just mortgaged everything he owns to buy the Stokesville Campground in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, which he hopes to turn into the ultimate mountain-bike resort. It’s a risky move that will either leave Scott in financial ruin or solidify his role as Virginia’s unquestioned ‘Godfather of Mountain Biking.’
Tucked away in George Washington National Forest, about 20 miles from Harrisonburg, Virginia, the Stokesville Campground sits on the edge of some 500 miles of singletrack.
“The singletrack we have here is dreamy,” Scott says. “It takes lots of fine line, flowing movement, like, the art of dancing along the trail. Even when I was racing out West and in different countries, I couldn’t wait to get back and ride Virginia.”
Scott is small and wiry, like someone who rides a bike for a living. You could call him weathered, but it’s an ‘Indiana Jones’ kind of weathered. The kind of weathered that comes from spending countless hours in the saddle and just as much time clearing trail with a chainsaw. It’s hard to describe exactly what Scott does for a living. He’s a race promoter, trail advocate and backcountry guide; his good friend and former national champ Jeremiah Bishop has given him the ‘Godfather of Mountain Biking’ title.
“He has so much going on, and has been at the center of bike advocacy in the state forever,” Bishop says. “He’s a doer.”
Even Scott has a hard time describing what he does. “When people ask me, I just say, ‘I do bicycles.’”
It’s pretty accurate. Throughout his two-decade career, Scott has been focused on bringing attention to Virginia’s underrated backcountry singletrack, which is often overshadowed by Pisgah National Forest in neighboring North Carolina. Virginia is quietly becoming a model for mountain-bike development on the East Coast. The small college town of Harrisonburg has been named one of the East’s few IMBA Ride Centers; the state is being held up as a model for cooperative advocacy between Wilderness and mountain-bike communities; and the state’s backcountry singletrack is finally getting some much-deserved attention, thanks in part to the newly developed Virginia Mountain Bike Trail.
Scott spent 10 years researching and developing the VMBT, which connects eight different trail systems in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, climbing a total of 65,000 cumulative feet along the way. Scott and a small crew of mountain bikers knocked out the first, and so far, only thru-ride in the fall of 2011, pedaling from Strasburg to Damascus during peak leaf season. Scott finished that ride nursing a separated shoulder.
“That trail is so much more of an adventure than I ever thought it could be,” Scott says. “It’s 480 miles of raw, remote Appalachian singletrack–a full-on expedition. I spent 10 years trying to connect that route, sneaking away here and there to explore and make connections in pieces of forest that I wasn’t familiar with. Riding the trail from end to end in 2011 was like a decade-long dream come true.”
Scott is currently mapping forest road alternates to the singletrack route to make biking across the state more “user friendly,” but his main obsession these days is turning Stokesville Campground into the East’s first adventure resort for mountain bikers.
There’s not much to Stokesville, Virginia. The town is so small it was left off the last Census. Scott has used the Stokesville Campground to stage a number of his races and events and couldn’t fathom losing the campground when it was put on the market in 2013 with a $1 million asking price. He scrambled to raise $400,000 in investments by selling partial ownerships at $5,000 and $10,000 a pop, and mortgaged everything he owned to borrow the remaining $600,000.
Now that he owns the property, he sees the 135 acres as a blank canvas. He’s in the process of building five miles of singletrack on the property, complete with flow lines and tight ballerina cliff-edge singletrack. Cabins and luxury tree houses are next. There’s already a killer swimming hole, small lake, and all the backcountry riding you can handle. “I’m letting my imagination run wild with this thing, uploading my experiences at adventure resorts in New Zealand and Costa Rica to Stokesville,” Scott says.
The campground purchase is a gamble. Beyond the financial risk–Scott could lose everything if the campground fails–he already has so much on his plate, from guiding clients into the backcountry and negotiating with the Forest Service for greater access to planning races and keeping the VMBT clear for would-be thru-riders.
“A lot of people are worried I’m taking on too much,” Scott says. “Yes, I am maxed out already. But I’m still gonna find a way to do it. It’s like starting out on a big ride: You don’t know if you’ll finish, but you’re gonna figure it out.”