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Park draws many to Lincoln Parish for Piney Hills Classic

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Park draws many to Lincoln Parish for Piney Hills Classic

Leader photo by Caleb Daniel
Hundreds of of mountain biking enthusiasts headed to Lincoln Parish Park over the weekend for the Piney Hills Classic races.

Park draws many to Lincoln Parish for Piney Hills Classic

Photo by Rusty Thompson

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Photo by Rusty Thompson

About 7.5 inches of rain soaked Lincoln Parish Park over the first half of last week, just as the park was set to play host to mountain bikers from around the world for the 32nd Annual Piney Hills Classic Mountain Bike Festival on Friday and Saturday.

But the skies cleared, and the waters dried in just enough time for hundreds of biking enthusiasts to descend upon the trails, including brand new flow trails that opened earlier this month.

“I knew the course dries quickly based on the past 31 years of racing,” Park Director James Ramsaur said Monday. “But the concern was what damage was done with that amount of water in that short of a period of time. We weren’t able to get out and assess things until Thursday morning… A lot of people volunteered and helped, and we were able to get it all done in time for (the bikers’) scheduled practice.”

This year’s Piney Hills Classic was the fourth of eight stops in the USA Cycling Cross Country Mountain Bike National Series, a major event that allows participants to rack up Union Cycliste Internationale points.

As such, the event drew competitors from across the country and beyond to Lincoln Parish Park and Ruston.

The fastest racer in the women’s elite category, Fatima Anahi Hijar Marin, hails from Mexico. Her mother, Maria Miller, said the pair have traveled to many different states in the U.S. as well as Canada for Fatima to enter races.

Even with all that experience, Lincoln Parish Park stood out.

“It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen,” Miller said.

Ramsaur knows the wide draw of the Piney Hills Classic paid extra dividends this year in terms of economic impact, thanks in part to some shrewd scheduling to place the race the weekend after another major biking event in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“That encourages them to stay in this region of the country,” Ramsaur said. “There were many of these families who were in Fayetteville (the previous Saturday), and they came here on Sunday and spent their whole week in Ruston. Families buying gas, eating in restaurants, staying at hotels and Airbnb’s.

“That’s a sizable impact because of the length of stay.”

Thanks to Louisiana’s stereotype of flat, swampy topography, Ramsaur said many racers from other parts of the country were surprised by both the beauty of the park and the quality of the biking trails on offer.

The Piney Hills Classic served as the first major test for the new downhill flow trails and hub structure that the Lincoln Parish Police Jury spent more than $682,000 in federal and local grant funds to construct.

The trails were funded by the Love Louisiana Outdoors grant, an offshoot of federal COVID- 19 relief money.

The hub — a rock and concrete structure, complete with a waterfall, that looms over Parish Park Road near the park entrance and provides cyclists with extra momentum for their descent into the trails — was mostly funded by a $300,000 grant from the Ruston Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau, to be paid over three years.