Tannery Knobs has 7 trails of varying difficulty. There is a sign that clearly explains the trail routes and rates them by skill level. Some of the trails are designated as “bike only” whereas some can be hiked as well. We have only tried out the green trail, “breakfast club,” because we feel like that suits our skill level best. That’s the one I will talk about here. We are by no means advanced mountain bikers, so keep that in mind if you or children have a lot of experience. I am not able to speak to the harder trails.
In talking to friends/other parents, I have found that when people have reservations for coming to Tannery Knobs, it is usually because they are not sure if their child is ready or they have heard of injuries happening on the trail. Taking the recommended precautions will decrease your risk, however, any time you are on a bike there is risk of injury. The worst bike wreck that any of our boys have had, happened on the sidewalk right outside our house. Our middle son flipped his bike and the side of his face scraped against our neighbor’s fence. His head was fine because he had his helmet on but his eye was swollen and the whole side of his face was black and blue for a couple weeks. In any setting, it is critical to wear a good fitting helmet and be safety aware. Helmets are required on the pump track and all the trails at Tannery Knobs.
For anyone who is just beginning or with small children, I recommended starting out on the paved pump track. Weekdays are much less crowded and great for practice. On weekends it can get busy with a lot of advanced bikers riding fast and doing tricks on the track. In our experience, everyone has been encouraging and great to watch out for smaller kids. The track is marked with directional arrows to keep traffic moving safely.
I was recently chatting with someone who seemed to be a more advanced biker, and he was commenting on our youngest son’s handling of his bike on the track. He said, “This track is going to help teach him all he needs to know for the trails. He is learning how to feel how his body and bike respond to each other, which is the foundation for all of it.” It seems simple, but what he said touches on a fundamental truth about kids in nature. In order for them to be able to trust themselves, know their limitations, and strengthen their vestibular (balance) systems, they have to engage in some level of risky play.
My youngest son was four years old when he started on the pump track. He was still on a balance bike at that point (Tip: Get a balance bike with a hand brake. It’s good for them to get used to and easier on their shoes 😁). We made a point to go when there wasn’t a crowd so he could practice. I’m not gonna lie, I was terrified watching him whip around the turns quickly or go down a steep descent. All I could picture was a disaster waiting to happen. My forever calm husband had to remind me how important this was in his learning and he was right. As time went on, our youngest became more and more confident with his bike handling. He ended up learning a pedal bike much faster than our older two because he was more confident in his balance. When he was 5, we practiced on the green trail. Again, I was worried as I pictured him propelling himself off of the side of the mountain. To be honest, he is much better at handling his bike than I am because I ride my bike much less often.
I am a Physical Therapist at a level 1 trauma center. This creates a continual battle in my head any time we are outdoors with the boys. One side of my brain is picturing every horrific accident I have witnessed and all the things that could go wrong. The other side of my brain understands on a developmental level how crucial it is to let our kids step out of OUR comfort zone and engage in play that has a certain level of risk. This is a challenging sweet spot to find. Safety and risky play do not have an obvious marriage. If kids are not allowed to discover their abilities and limits, it creates a much more dangerous situation for them in the long run because they will not have developed the “righting reactions” or balance responses that they need to keep themselves safe. By giving them the tools they need, (good helmet, practice, safe equipment, safe track/environment), we can let them branch out and expand their abilities. Balanced and Barefoot is an excellent book by Angela J. Hanscom, an occupational therapist, that I recently started reading on this topic.
Once you feel like you/your child are ready for the green trail, this is one of the trails that you are also allowed to hike on. It is only .6 miles, so you and your little one could “hike” the trail first to familiarize yourself with it.
There are no sharp/rocky descents on this trail or spots that I felt were too difficult for our five year old to navigate. If the trail is muddy, it is probably best to stay on the pump track. We went one day when it was muddy and they did fine, but it definitely could make things more dangerous as tires could easily slip. We know better for next time and will avoid the mud.
Overall, I think this is a great park to allow your kids to sharpen their biking skills, get a taste of mountain biking, and get ALL THE ENERGY out! We have really enjoyed watching our boys’ bike skills grow here over the last few years. Besides, you really can’t beat a fun activity that’s free and close to town, right?