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Follow the dog for new bike trail

A JACK RUSSELL called Zak is set to be immortalised with the opening of the West Midland’s first ever purpose-built cross country mountain bike route in Cannock Chase Forest, near Rugeley, Staffs.

The seven-mile trail, called Follow the Dog, will give riders a chance to enjoy a thrilling ride through the 8,700-acre beauty spot, while protecting sensitive terrain elsewhere in the Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Part of the trail was chosen by Zak as the best possible route, with volunteer trail builders following his lead.

The trail’s completion also coincides with the launch of a Forestry Commission health-push called Active Woods, backed by the British Heart Foundation, which is bidding to get people off the sofa and into the nation’s woods to burn-off surplus calories.

The route is the first to be built by Chase Trails, a group of local enthusiasts working in partnership with Swinnerton Cycles and the Forestry Commission.

The trail was unveiled at a free, off-road extravaganza on last Sunday (March 13th), featuring demonstration rides, trade stands, displays, music, hog roast and tips for those wanting to get pedalling. Inaugurating the trail was Gary Fisher, one of the legendary names in mountain biking worldwide, whose company are sponsoring the trail, and the UK’s very own "Mr Mountain Biking", Pat Adams, organiser of international events.

Georgina High, Forestry Commission Recreation Ranger, said: "Building the route has taken two years and is an enormous achievement, especially on the part of volunteers who have invested thousands of hours of hard labour. All the partners share the same vision of creating world class, sustainable, biking facilities in Cannock Chase Forest. With over one million people visiting each year, such trails will allow us to balance the needs of all woodland users, ensuring bikers can enjoy high quality rides away from sensitive sites. And of course, it gives people chance to put into practise our Active Woods message that a few hours in the saddle can put years on your life."

The Follow the Dog trail is the brainchild of Gary Galpin, from Milford, and Stuart Tite, from Rugeley, who formed Chase Trails and recruited a small army of like-minded enthusiasts to help them build the route, inspired by similar trails in Wales. They worked alongside Forestry Commission engineers, building bridges, clearing trees and surfacing the route with local materials like sand and gravel.

Gary’s is the owner of Zak, who lent a hand – or rather a paw – in the trail’s construction. At one stage, when faced with a host of possible routes for the trail to go, they opted to forge ahead by following Zak over the best possible route that he chose – literally in the pooch’s paw marks - hence the name Follow the Dog!