Highland Profiles is a series highlighting West Virginia’s exemplary outdoor adventurers, business owners, and community innovators. If you’ve got someone in mind worthy of a profile, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2019, Nikki and I traveled to Snowshoe to cover the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. We stayed with good friends in their condo on top of the mountain. I walked out back one evening to savor a legendary Cheat Mountain sunset and came upon a large man in a straw hat with a beer in one hand and a spatula in the other flipping burgers on a charcoal grill. He had scabs on his shins immediately indicative of a mountain biker. He looked up at me, flashed a wide smile, and enthusiastically introduced himself. He had no idea who I was; I had no idea who he was. It didn’t matter. His stoke for biking, for the World Cup, and for life in general was palpable.
Eric Lindberg is an incredibly kind and genuine individual who exudes his love and endless energy for mountain biking in West Virginia. A ramblin’ man who lived all over the country and ultimately settled on a rural farm in Pocahontas County, Eric has been a linchpin of the Pocahontas County mountain bike scene for decades. He’s spent countless hours riding and maintaining the region’s spiderweb of notoriously rugged backcountry trails. He was a founding member of Pocahontas Trails, the region’s International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) chapter. By leveraging his collaborative skillset, he was instrumental in helping the Snowshoe Highlands trail system achieve Bronze, then Silver, status as an IMBA Ride Center—a major milestone and a first for any West Virginia trail network.
He’s also humble. Not a big fan of the limelight, I had to twist his arm a bit to get this interview. And I sure am glad he agreed because his story is worth sharing. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Pocahontas County mountain bike scene wouldn’t be where it is today without his contributions. And I know others agree. Ride on!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your backstory?
I was born in New Jersey. We had a trout stream in our backyard and freshwater springs that you could drink out of; it was pretty nice. Then I moved to Hollywood in South Florida, where I met my wife Barbara in my last year of college. After college, we went out to California to the Bay Area, then moved to Alexandria, Virginia. We went down to the Mississippi coast for a few years, then back over to the Florida Panhandle before coming back to Washington D.C., where we lived for way too long. We finally escaped and ended up settling in Greenbrier County in West Virginia in 1991. We moved from our old farmhouse to Pocahontas County in 2007.
What brought you to West Virginia?
I started kayaking in Mississippi but got heavy into boating when I lived in D.C. with the Potomac and all the other rivers around there. I spent lots of weekends paddling in West Virginia. I was just reflecting on Gauley Season back in the day when it was just two weeks long; we camped at the tailwaters and knew everybody in the boating community. When Barbara and I finally decided to leave the D.C. area, West Virginia reminded me of all the things I really liked. It was safe and wild; it was quiet and nice. When the end of the world happens, West Virginia still has 20 years because it’s so far behind.
When did you get into mountain biking?
I built my first mountain bike when I was in Florida. There were no mountain bikes available there, but I was following what was going on with bikes on the West Coast and cobbled together a frame. But even on the Florida coast, with no elevation, I managed to break that frame in half. I bought my first real mountain bike when we moved to D.C. and started riding seriously on singletrack in the mid-80s.
How did you get involved with trail building and the mountain bike scene in Pocahontas County?
Back then, the Forest Service got a number of [Recreational Trail Fund] grants, but the execution of those grants was really mismanaged. They were taking hand-cut singletrack and putting a machine on it and destroying it, working on the trails but not really improving them at all. There was no oversight going on and I just got really frustrated with it. I figured we needed to get some folks together and form a mountain bike club because there’s strength in numbers. Let’s get some people involved and see if we can have a voice to try and steer things in a better direction. That was the start of Pocahontas Trails.
What does Pocahontas Trails do?
It really boils down to advocacy for new trails, working with land managers to improve trail conditions, and preserving the old-school character of our classic trails. Slatyfork has a huge mountain biking legacy that goes back to that trail maintenance. We also use trails to create economic opportunities for people that want to live here.
What was the mountain bike scene like before Pocahontas Trails came along?
Events like the Fat Tire Festival and the 24 Hours of Snowshoe had come and gone; the area was languishing because there wasn’t really any trail maintenance going on. Everything was degraded. One of the first trail sessions we did was at Tea Creek Mountain. You couldn’t even push the bike up the trail to get to the downhill section. Your handlebars would get stuck in shrubs on both sides; the rhododendrons had completely closed it in. But now, it’s a great trail system once again. I like to think that Poca. Trails and the local community have been pretty instrumental in turning it around here.
What are some of the benefits of Pocahontas Trails being an IMBA chapter?
It immediately gave us access to the land managers. The Forest Service and Snowshoe both understand IMBA, so the fact that we’re a chapter really helped. Early on, we hosted a regional IMBA summit at Snowshoe to discuss advocacy and how to build coalitions to bring divergent ideas together. It was well-attended by a lot of the East Coast IMBA chapters and it helped put us on the map. We got Snowshoe and the local community involved. The Subaru trail crew came in and gave us a lot of good input on maintenance techniques. We learned from the folks that really knew what they were doing. It’s been really positive all around.
Did you form a positive relationship with the Forest Service during that time?
We did. One interesting aspect is that we’ve been around long enough that there’s been a whole hierarchy change at the [Monongahela National Forest], and also at Snowshoe. The new leadership has made a huge impact on us achieving our goals. The Forest Service has shown a great willingness to provide assistance and work with our volunteers, and Snowshoe allowed us to come in and work on their backcountry trails, which inspired them to up their game with new backcountry trails and solid trail maintenance.
How did the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center come about?
As I mentioned, the trails were in disarray. A number of years ago, the Pocahontas County CVB started to fund trail maintenance. Initially it was just Greg Moore, who’s an old-school fixture in the West Virginia mountain bike scene, going out with a volunteer to clear the trails, which started making a significant difference. Meanwhile, Poca.Trails signed an agreement with the Forest Service that helped us do more trail work. We were also working to get a signed agreement with Snowshoe that granted Poca. Trails permission to do volunteer work on their trails and function as a group by hosting a tent at events. At the same time, Poca. Trails, the Pocahontas County CVB, Snowshoe, and others started working toward a shared goal of resurrecting the prime days of mountain biking in Pocahontas County. All the pieces were coming into place; we were starting to communicate as a cohesive group about how we can improve the regional trail network.
During that period, I came across the IMBA Ride Center criteria, and thought that whether we go for the Ride Center designation or not, it seemed like a good roadmap to improve tourism in our area. If you look at the criteria, it’s about much more than trails. You need lodging, restaurants, breweries, and amenities like bike wash stations and places to lock your bike. If you have that stuff, the area just gets better for everyone. We formed the Snowshoe Highlands Area Recreation Collaborative [SHARC] and started a big push that was pretty instrumental in bringing the community together to answer the big questions: What trail maintenance do we need? What new trails do we need? How should we map the area? What advertising campaigns do we need? What elements are we missing? We had to determine those gaps and then figure out how to fill them in.
How much work was involved in making the Ride Center happen?
It took about two years, and that was with the pretty good foundation we had before we even started working towards the designation. We realized that, even with all the great trails we have, we really didn’t have any easy trails. There was a push for putting in new green-level flow trails and backcountry trails. The initial cost to become a Ride Center is also significant. You’re paying for the IMBA team to review your application, and then for a team to come put boots on the ground, or tires on the ground in this case, to check out the trail, evaluate it, and show you where your gaps are. Then you’ve got to go through and patch those gaps quickly. The Pocahontas County CVB and Snowshoe really stepped up to the plate with a chunk of change and the understanding that this designation helps everybody. Another key player was Doug Arbogast and the crew from West Virginia University Extension; they helped enormously with the application process by mapping out the area encompassed by the Ride Center and finding grant money.
What’s the added benefit of going from a Bronze to a Silver-level Ride Center?
It just means that all the Ride Center elements are that much nicer. There’s more variety of trails, and those trails are better maintained. The signage is improving. The land managers have a better understanding of what their role is in coordinating and organizing our volunteers.
Is there momentum to achieve Gold Ride Center status?
Oh, of course. SHARC meets almost every month and really attacks whatever needs to get done. Getting Gold status would be huge. We’d be the first Gold Ride Center east of the Rockies.
How important is mountain biking to the Pocahontas County economy these days?
It’s significant. Five years ago, you only really saw bikes at the Greenbrier River Trail or downhill bikes at Snowshoe. But now you see cars with bikes everywhere. We’ve got 27 miles of new trails mapped out for Marlinton, which props up the community. Marlinton is having this little renaissance where things are starting to change. There’s a new bike shop, a local tavern, and more restaurants are starting to show up. You see young folks that are trying to raise a family here. If there are more trails, there are more businesses, there’s more stuff going on, and maybe people have a way to stay here.
What makes Pocahontas County special?
The remoteness and the rural aspect of it. I’m sitting outside in the sun here doing this interview, listening to a bunch of birds chirp. I like the fact that I have to go 20 miles to get to the closest traffic light; that’s not so bad! There’s a good sense of community. It’s got its problems, but not nearly as many as anywhere else. One of the best parts of Pocahontas County is that you have to really want to be here.
What do you want for the future in West Virginia?
I’d love it if a four-lane highway never comes through Pocahontas County. I’d like more trails, obviously. I’d like to see better trail connectivity, like some well-established mix of gravel and singletrack routes that can take you all over the region. I’m a little nervous about the recent growth, but I think it’s so rural here in Pocahontas County that it’s going to stay pretty rural for quite a while, at least in my lifetime. I can still go for a ride with my dog and not see a single person all day. If it stays manageable and well-done, I think we’ll be on the right track.