Florida Mountain Bikers Find Their Home At Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Thanks To Dorsey Tennant
Wind through the off-road trails of Jonathan Dickinson State Park’s Camp Murphy long enough and it’s easy to see why the park has become a destination for mountain bikers looking for elevated terrain in Florida. In fact, the newest feature of Camp Murphy’s nine-mile-plus trail system, Bunker Hill, is unlike anything else in the state. And we have Dorsey Tennant to thank for its construction.
Tennant is the current president of Club Scrub, the volunteer subcommittee of Friends of Jonathan Dickinson State Park,responsible for creating and maintaining the Camp Murphy trail system. In the more than six years since Tennant became club president, he’s logged thousands (yes, thousands) of hours working on designs and watching them come to fruition. Along with a team of men and women who, like him, are passionate about mountain biking, the nonprofit organization has created a following that has grown to roughly 800 active members and countless visitors.
“When I first started riding mountain bikes, I came out here a lot and I’d see maybe one person,” Tennant says of the trail system, named Camp Murphy in recognition of the WWII Army base that stretched across 11,000 acres of the park in the 1940s. “It’s grown exponentially, and some people probably don’t like that. This was their little trail that they could come to and they would never see anybody out here. It’s literally exploded.”
The parking lot may be nearly full on weekends and during organized events, but trail expansions have prevented Camp Murphy from feeling overwhelmingly crowded. Visit on a weekday, and you may see just a few bikers, one or two endangered scrub jays and the occasional alligator meandering nearby.
“My goal was to make the trails rideable seven days a week, 365 days a year, whether it rains or not,” Tennant says of the compactable materials he uses to keep the trails open in all weather conditions. “A lot of other trails around, they just can’t do that.”
Though Tennant works full time as the owner of West Palm’s Aldrich Tool Rental, he is a part-time resident of the park through the state’s resident volunteer program so he can maintain the trails after hours. He and several other members spend time laying shell rock, pine straw and ground ladders on the trail, as well as building wood features and other obstacles on the recently opened pump track (an older track is also still in use).
“Whenever we do one section, the section after it needs to be done. So we just work our way through the trail,” he says of the sections that were once solely comprised of sand. “Most people who came here 10 years ago and rode and said they’d never come back, when they do come back they’re just like, ‘Wow.’”
That sentiment seems to be shared by anyone who has played a role in Club Scrub, from local bike shop owners to park rangers. In fact, Tennant received the State of Florida Male Volunteer of the Year award in 2016 for adding unmeasurable value to Jonathan Dickinson State Park. He credits several other volunteers by name, however, and insists he couldn’t do much without their support.
“Everything isn’t my idea, and every feature isn’t my idea; I have a vision for what I want,” he says of the trails, which include several expert-only technical areas (helmets are mandatory on all trails). “A lot of people ask how they can get some input on trail [design], and I always tell them to show up when we’re working because that’s when we make the decisions.”
Trail repairs and additions are funded by donations and Club Scrub memberships, which cost $40 annually and include 12 free park admissions and discounts at local shops. Membership dues also help fund events throughout the year, including women-only rides, barbecues and the ever-growing Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day, a biannual event that promotes safe off-road biking practices and draws more than 300 kids and parents to Camp Murphy.
Tennant also has plans to begin designing a fat bike-only trail that runs north through the park and includes switchbacks over the dunes. “The people mountain biking, they want that challenge. It makes it interesting,” he says.
The park is also doing its part to ensure Club Scrub continues to attract interest, with plans to add a second concession area with restrooms, showers, potable water and bike rentals near the trailhead. Tennant, who frequently takes mountain biking trips to Colorado and Utah, is looking forward to getting back on the trails during the next phase of Camp Murphy’s development.
“I’ve been working in here so much that I haven’t been riding as much. I’m at a point where I want to take a break and start riding some more.”
16450 SE Federal Highway, Hobe Sound; 561.722.8320; clubscrub.org