Modern day trail building and work parties have become nothing but construction crews with assignments thus stripping the creativity and fun that attracted riders to the sport to begin with.There…let it sink in for a bit and now I’ll go into why I believe this is true, how it happened and why this hurts the sport and creates less volunteers.
When was the last time you went to a work party (that you were purely a volunteer and not running the show) where you got to have input on the features and character on the trail? Were you allowed to give input or were you just handed a tool and told what to do? What happened when you tried to give input? Were you building something you ultimately wanted to ride? Was the focus on getting a lot of trail done or making trail that is fun to ride?
I can tell you from experience that most of the trail building work parties I have been to in recent years have made me feel more like an employee than a volunteer. In a race to get more trail for riders, we have brought in big equipment that cuts through the land, asked volunteers to just take instructions and even brought in “professional trail builders” to design the trails we want to ride. So we are left with a tool in our hands, a set of instructions and maybe a free lunch.
Much like modern day neighborhood building, we come in and level the ground quickly and hope for characteristics of that area to come back because it is the only way we can see getting enough miles done in time (neighborhoods that level to a field then replant trees…sound familiar?). There is no creative input and what happens when you try to? You are usually faced with some sort of negative remark. At best…you get a nice response and another set of instructions.
The creativity you want to bring to the table is squashed and you don’t get to build what you and others want to ride. There is no sessioning of small sections of trail, there is no laughing as you perfect certain areas, there is a construction crew in the woods that is not getting paid.
What does this do to your willingness to go to another work party? It kills the experience that you were ultimately looking for.
So what happens? Work party volunteers become harder to find. Organizations try to encourage more to come complaining that without help we won’t get trails or won’t be able to maintain the ones we have. Worse yet…what happens when you try to put in your creative input at that point in time? You get guilted or chastised with a comment that goes something like this “You can’t ***** of you don’t work on the trails”.
That’s a way to invite people to come work as VOLUNTEERS. Tell them negatively that their opinion means nothing. That sounds like fun.
So what is the foundation of the fundamental problem with modern day work parties and trail building? We no longer get to build the trails we want to ride.
We have lost everything that started the initial spark to begin with. We have turned building trails into a race for mileage, we have turned volunteers into hourly workers and we have killed the creativity that started the sport in our lives and back in the day to begin with. We also have an internal problem in mountain biking where we dumb down trails to the lowest common denominator so that everyone can ride every inch of trail. There is no progression and riders that want more technical riding are left to find old trails that people haven’t touched yet. That is another argument for another day but it is part of the problem with no creativity in work parties as well.
Land Management Issues
Ok…so before you jump on the land management issues and government…this is a real problem in a lot of areas. I am in no way condoning the building of rogue trails on land you don’t own. While that might be fun while you are doing it, it hurts the relationships built with government officials and land managers and that ultimately hurts the sport for all of us. Bottom line…you don’t have authority to start randomly building trails on land you don’t own…so don’t do it.
Also, I fully understand that there are a lot of times that we are getting dictated how to build trails on national parks and other protected areas. 9 times out of 10…we are getting told how to build a trail by someone who doesn’t even ride. They usually use some excuse like “their 6 year old couldn’t ride that” to dumb things down. The reality is that their 6 year old could…they can’t because they are out of shape and haven’t even exercised in 40 years. If they got off their ass and rode a bike…they would eventually want more challenging trails as well.
So…don’t start reading this and think that I want every trail to have wood ladders up in the trees. Trails should be built in a way they won’t get closed right away but we should also try to push the envelope diplomatically so we don’t hurt the sport as a whole.
Getting back to the issue at hand…
So I ask you this question very seriously…
When was the last time you rode a section of trail that you could tell was built because someone wanted to ride it?
In recent memory in the SE, the best example I can think of is Raccoon Mountain in Chattanooga, TN. Almost every inch of that trail feels like it was built with a purpose. It isn’t some big mountain trail that has the luxury of a lot of elevation gain and loss…but it does an incredible job of using what it has. It also has sections for everyone without sacrificing the ride for anyone. There are literally times I’ll be riding that trail and start smiling because as soon as I get finished with a section I think “I see what you did there! That was cool!”.
If you want more people at work parties, it has to be fun and appeal to people who want to ride their mountain bike. I do believe that organization and structure is needed in a sport that is much bigger than it was when Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher first started. Work parties also have a lot more opinions than you and your buddies in a backyard. However, we have to be incredibly careful not to strip the key ingredient that started our riding in the first place. There is a point when you can have too much organization to the point it kills the creativity and love of the sport. Just ask anyone who has worked with a company that started off small and ended up big. Too much red tape and people in power can hurt an organization more than help it. We also need to be very careful of the guilt and negativity thrown at riders with input or ones that haven’t done trail work yet. These people are volunteers. They need to feel like their opinion does matter and they need to be attracted to working on trails…not guilted into it or yelled at for not doing it.
We also need to stop racing for milage and focus more on the experience. Did you care how many feet trail you could put in the backyard or did you care that every foot created for or setup for an experience? While more trail mileage is great, but at what cost? It gets really boring when every mile is the same everywhere you go. It is time to slow down some and not worry about hacking up as much land as we can as fast as we can. While it might take longer…it can produce better more sustainable trails.
So there you go…over the years I have personally seen a progression to construction crews instead of trail builders. This stripped…for many riders…the creativity and ability to build trails they wanted to ride. And that…I believe…is the fundamental problem with modern day work parties and trail building.
Thoughts? This is C&P'ed from another source. Do you agree?
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