Because Trails Don’t Build Themselves
Founded back in 1988, IMBA has been the sport’s best advocate for maintaining and building new trails and community relations. Here, Wiens brings to bear the importance of trail advocacy and the role that everyone who rides a mountain bike can play in pursuit of more singletrack.
MBA: After you quit racing, how did your involvement in IMBA come along?
Dave: I became involved in trails and trail advocacy as soon as I started riding back in the 1980s. It certainly had a different flavor back then, but it was still about more and better places to ride mountain bikes. I became aware of IMBA right away when they formed in 1988 and have been a member ever since. Along the way, I became more involved in local advocacy here in my hometown of Gunnison, Colorado, and founded Gunnison Trails in 2006. I attended professional trail-building workshops organized by IMBA like many others; I was guided by the IMBA books Trail Solutions and Managing Mountain Biking.
Local advocacy to me revolves around maintaining existing trails; educating trail users on responsible use and working with land managers and other stakeholders for win-win outcomes; and working towards opportunities for new trails. I was invited as one of four outsiders to help IMBA with strategic planning in 2015, and eventually was asked to join the board of directors in 2016, which I did.
My primary interest then was to help advance mountain biking as a sport, because it becomes an important part of people’s lives and is great for young and old alike. Then, like now, mountain bikers were divided by two primary issues: access to congressionally designated wilderness areas and e-bikes on trails. I didn’t feel like I had the answers for these tough and complex topics, but I felt that I could contribute to the conversation. With the organization reeling from financial challenges, I stepped in as Executive Director early in 2017.
MBA: What is the biggest hurdle for mountain bike access these days?
Dave: Overall, and this varies depending on where you are in the country, I think the biggest access challenges that we have relate to more users of all kinds being on the trails. This is a good thing overall, and there is a growing awareness that trails make people and communities happier, healthier and more prosperous.
Today, especially near larger populations, trails are under immense pressure at certain times, as there are more hikers, more dog walkers, more trail runners and more mountain bikers, all after the one thing that gets us all excited—singletrack! With no end in sight for the demand for trails, a premium must be placed on cooperation and sharing; responsible use; and effective planning and design of new, and adjustments and modifications of existing trails and trail systems. These are all areas of emphasis and expertise of IMBA and local trail organizations, as well as trail professionals in the trail industry, which is a quickly growing sector.
MBA: How has IMBA’s mission changed since the early days?
Dave: Then, as now, we are focused on the trails. Our mission is to create, enhance and protect great places to ride mountain bikes. No trails equals no mountain biking. Access and education are still cornerstones of what we do, as is promoting responsible riding, sharing the trails, and good trail etiquette; and volunteers still play a key role in most every aspect of advocacy. What has changed a lot is how new trails are created.
Today, trail planning, design and construction methods, and techniques have evolved greatly, and more and more trails are being professionally built, beginning with professional planning and design. We are focused on the process of bringing trails and trails systems from nothing more than an idea to finished and maintained trails on the ground. Nobody knows this entire process better than IMBA, and our Trail Labs walk community leaders and land managers through this process from start to finish so that they can return to where they live and build the coalition of stakeholders that will ensure success.
There is a ton of work that must be done before the first shovelful of dirt is ever moved. In fact, that actual construction of the trail is the easy part. Once you get there, you’re almost to the finish line! The process begins with access: you must have access, or permission to build trails on a given piece of land. Then, you need a great plan. Our Trail Accelerator Grants help with this, and it’s a great plan that will bring a project to life and give it legs with stakeholders in the community.
Funding comes next. How will the trail or trails be built and who will pay for them? If they are to be built by pros, expect to pay roughly from $25,000 to $100,000 per mile. Finally, a comprehensive and effective maintenance plan needs to be implemented and executed. Taking care of our trails is job number one.
MBA: What’s your message to today’s riders about trail advocacy?
Dave: First and foremost, be polite and respectful to everyone. If you are riding on a bikes-only directional trail, you can confidently let go of the brakes and ride the way we like to ride. But, if you are on a multiple-use, non-directional trail with typical blind spots, you should consider riding as if there is a class of second-graders on a nature field trip around every corner. Common sense is key. There are times to let the brakes go and also times to temper your temptation to fly and ride cautiously and in control. Say hi and be nice to everyone, slowing to pass and yielding the trail to oncoming hikers and horses, as well as to climbing riders.
You are representing mountain bikers and you will leave an impression on everyone that you encounter. It’s up to you to determine what you want that impression to be.
Also, get involved in your local mountain biking or trail organization. Flip them a bit of money or a lot depending on your financial situation. If you don’t have the chips, volunteer your time and expertise. Remember, it’s more than just digging in the dirt. Clubs need graphic design skills, database knowledge, event coordinators and on and on. Be a proactive and problem-solving voice in access discussions. Get to know the other stakeholders and what makes them passionate about the places that we share.