Joe Cross: 2017 Person of the Year

Joe Cross works to clear storm debris from a trail in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (Sarah Dunlap/IH)

Joe Cross works to clear storm debris from a trail in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (Sarah Dunlap/IH)
Joe Cross

It would not be unfair to say that Joe Cross is the forefather of mountain biking in Scott County. That’s important because Scott County has emerged as a premiere destination for enthusiasts of one of America’s fastest-growing sports, and that is largely because of Cross’s tireless efforts.

But that isn’t why we chose Cross as the Independent Herald/Scott County Chamber of Commerce 2017 Scott County Person of the Year.

This year saw one of Cross’s longtime goals realized when he helped the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau launch a mountain biking program that is introducing many of the club’s 800 members to the sport.

The BGC’s program, which now includes a pair of mountain bike tracks and a pump track at the club’s facilities in south Oneida, was launched after Cross hooked up with an organization that started a similar program at a Boys & Girls Club in Dalton, Ga. Cross and BGCCP CPO Justin Sharpe traveled to Dalton to survey that program, determined it could be implemented locally, and were able to obtain grant funds to get the program started. Top-of-the-line Trek mountain bikes were purchased for BGC members, and Cross called on his old friend Randy Conner — a past president of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club who is a professional trail-builder — to design and build the trails at the BGC.

Cross, who was also behind the construction of the multi-use trail at Bear Creek Sports Complex on the other end of Oneida, has long brainstormed ways to get kids involved in mountain-biking. His thought process is this: not every kid wants to play basketball or soccer, but every kid needs to be active.

“What was neat was there were kids out there playing soccer, some playing football and some riding bikes,” Cross said as the BGC program launched in October. “I just want to get them moving, whether they’re walking or running or even flat-water kayaking. And this is a great place to start.”

Now that the program is up and running, Cross is staying in close touch with the Boys & Girls Club, assisting with the program however he can — usually by helping teach kids the proper way to ride mountain bikes.

“He keeps thanking us for the opportunity, but, really, we should be thanking him,” Sharpe said. “There probably wouldn’t be a mountain bike program at the club without Joe.”

Cross remains active in other areas, too. His partnership with the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area dates back to the 1980s, when he first became interested in mountain biking as a way to stay active after jogging became too difficult on his knees. He convinced the BSF to allow mountain biking on some of its trails, and today the 125,000-acre national park is one of the few National Park Service units in America that permit mountain biking. Within the BSF, bikes are allowed on several hiking trails, in addition to most horse trails, and there are three trails that have been built specifically for mountain bikes: Collier Ridge Loop, West Bandy and Duncan Hollow Loop. Together, these trails and two others — the Grand Gap and John Muir hiking trails — have been designated “Epic” by the International Mountain Biking Association. IMBA, the world’s foremost organization that promotes mountain biking, reserves its coveted “Epic” status for only a few destinations each year. In 2012, that designation placed Big South Fork on the map. More recently, BSF Superintendent Niki S. Nicholas said that mountain biking is quickly closing in on horseback riding as the park’s second-most-popular activity, behind hiking.

Cross continues to work as a volunteer in the BSF, keeping the mountain bike trails clear of fallen trees and other debris. He can often be found in the park after big storms, clearing the trails and making them suitable to ride.

This work is just the start of Cross’s involvement within the community. He is also a key advocate of healthier eating and healthier lifestyles in general. As a career pharmacist, Cross is well aware of the chronic health issues that face Scott County, and he strives to raise awareness of these issues — pointing out earlier this year, for example, that Scott County ranks as the state’s worst county when it comes to physical inactivity. He has launched a Facebook group — Let’s Eat Healthier Scott County — that advocates for healthier eating habits, and he remains active within that group in an effort to promote the cause. On Dec. 20, for example, he pointed out that health professions are now recommending a formula of 5-2-1-0 for healthy kids — five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours maximum of screen-watching time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugary drinks each day.

Cross’s tireless efforts to promote mountain biking and healthier lifestyles are important at a time when a growing number of Americans — both in Scott County and across the nation — are becoming keenly interested in healthier living. For these reasons, Joe Cross is our 2017 Scott County Person of the Year, a recognition that is well-deserved.

Cross will be recognized at the Scott County Chamber of Commerce's Annual Meeting, on Jan. 25, 2017, at the Scott County Senior Citizens Center in Oneida.

— Ben Garrett

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About the Person of the Year recognition: The Independent Herald has named a Scott County Person of the Year since 2013, when Amy Martin was selected for her successful efforts to raise more than $150,000 to build an all-inclusive playground at Oneida City Park for special needs children. This year, the Person of the Year recognition is co-presented for the first time by the Independent Herald and the Scott County Chamber of Commerce. 

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