About 40 bike enthusiasts and Cherokee County officials gathered at the park off Sixes Road on Tuesday morning to witness the official opening of new additions to Blankets Creek, which include an expanded parking lot, two pavilions, a restroom facility, a bike washing station and a large, open lawn where events will take place.
Cherokee Recreation and Parks Director Bryan Reynolds was among the speakers at the ceremony. He told those in attendance the trail system at Blankets Creek, which spans more than 14 miles, has become well known in the mountain biking community since opening in 2000.
But with about 87,000 bike riders wheeling into the park each year, Reynolds said the facilities there previously weren’t enough to accommodate the visitors.
“If you go on social media … the trail system here constantly gets tremendous reviews,” Reynolds said. “(Now) I think we finally have amenities in the total park to match the trail system. I think we finally have the whole experience when (bike riders) get here.”
Cherokee County purchased 5.5 acres for the expansions to the park in 2009 and construction began in 2012. The project cost $820,000, Reynolds said after the ceremony.
Cherokee Board of Commissioners Chairman Buzz Ahrens, who also spoke to the crowd, agreed that the new construction on Blankets Creek will make the park more welcoming to visitors.
“Terrific results,” Ahrens said.
Ahrens also commented on the park’s close proximity to the new Cherokee County Aquatic Center just a short trek down Sixes Road.
“Talk about assets … this just fits in so well,” he said.
Jay Wilkes, president of the Woodstock chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association who has partnered with Cherokee to construct and upkeep the trails, said the upgrades were necessary for Blankets Creek, which has been rated “the No. 5 bike trail system in the world” by one website. Wilkes said even with the expansion to the parking lot the park is still almost at capacity on weekends.
“We really appreciate all the effort,” Wilkes said, from county officials and employees to improve the park.
In addition to the upgrades to the amenities at the park, Cherokee Fire and Emergency Services has also been working to improve safety at the park.
Greg Erdely, Cherokee Fire and EMS field operations chief, said that the department has been working with SORBA to map the trails at Blankets Creek, which has improved response times in emergency situations in the park.
Erdely said for the past several years the fire department has worked with the county and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Cherokee County and SORBA to find ways to increase safety at Blankets Creek, where they get called out for emergencies about 100 times a year.
Ahrens said the increased safety is important.
“It’s all part of the package, so that people who come and use this facility know that we’ve got resources behind them that are state of the art,” Ahrens said.