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  1. #1
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    How to combat trail-building misinformation?

    Trying to make the long story short... A racing/volunteer group built a few miles of xc trail on a terrain mostly of decomposed granite, with some slopes exceeding 40% in some areas, no grade reversals, fall lines, in summary, old school bad trails. Now they are claiming on the media, Facebook, etc that the trail was designed by a person "qualified and endorsed" by IMBA and according to "US Fish and Wildlife standards", agency which as far as I know, doesn't have any bike-related specs. With only a few weeks of use and probably no more that 400 riders, the place looks like the end of the season @ Northstar, filled with brake ruts, dust, and roots showing in many places. We live in a region that sees more than 100 annual inches of rain, so when the rain comes...

    Most of the trails in the region are not up to IMBA standards, so almost everybody thinks they are well done, just because they have fun in them and haven't ridden anything better. The "it's better than nothing" mentality. I offered the volunteers help before the thing got started but was told they had their "IMBA qualified person". We are a company that is trying to improve the way trails are built here, I've been involved in other projects alongside well known trail builders from the US and Canada, been to PTBA summits and learning as much as we can. We are currently in the process of funding, permits, etc of other city projects, so there is no well made trail system to serve as an example.

    How can one publicly combat the mis-information without looking as if we were envious or trying to advertise our business? Our concern is that this type of wrongly built trail is considered the right one to build in this region, therefore we stay in the dark ages... Plus it's a waste of labor, resources and time, etc.
    Last edited by Relayden; 07-03-2012 at 06:17 PM.
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  2. #2
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    If the trail is that bad, it'll become obvious at the end of the season.

  3. #3
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    DG? Bummer. I'm guessing you are in SoCal? DG is worse than pumice. You have to be pretty hard up for good dirt to build on that shite!

    Do you mean "side" (or cross slopes) slopes exceeding 40%, or "grades"? Grades steeper than 40% is pretty bad trail building unless they are on rock (armored or natural) and intended to be directional (down hill).

    That said, IMBAs trail building standards are extrapolated from USFS standards. They are pretty good, but very conservative and are generalized to help people anywhere in the world who don't build trail professionally. Like any other theoretical model, you can't apply those standards without some advanced knowledge and site-specific information. Also, I personally know of some so-called "IMBA endorsed" trail builders who totally suck at building trail. (More specifically, they are very good at a certain type of construction, but call anything that they don't understand, or are not interested in, "unsustainable.")

    To answer your question: Those peeps that built that bad trail are a good volunteer base, but need led in the right direction. Try getting in touch with the land manager and talk to them about it (without bad-mouthing those builders) and see if they can help get the effort more organized. Make a plan, on paper, for what you want to build. Learn the lingo of that particular agency and explain how you will jump through all the hoops. Get them on your side and the other guys will appear "rouge" and unprofessional.

  4. #4
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    Get your grants, build your trails. See what people ride. They will likely abandon the poorly done trails, and learn in the process. Forget about trying to change attitudes or combat poorly build trails. It does not work, since trails tend to be an emotional issue for most riders, and not a logic issue. Just build it, and they will come. A cliche, but a true one.
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  5. #5
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    So you run a trailbuilding company? Why not set the standard in your region by building a real, quality trail system? Not only you'll showcase your company work, but you'll also define a sustainable trail system to show to land managers. Maybe work in partnership with IMBA or a PTBA member to help cut some red flag.
    A trailbuilder from the north

  6. #6
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    The builders and designers and land managers need to know you and need to see how you would have done it. You may want to volunteer to add some grade dips or reversals in sections most likely to deteriorate from fast moving rainwater.

    I built numerous over-sized grade dip drains in 2002, that took as long as 5 hours each to construct. Maybe 40 wheel-barrows worth of soil moved for each one. They still stand and still are diverting water today. The local volunteers and organized trail builders, and Forest Service trail crews have all studied my designs and have copied them over and over. Their are still paid crews who try to scratch a drain off the edge of some trails in a few minutes, oblivious of how quickly they will fill with sediment and clog and force water back onto the downslope of the trail. They have unqualified supervisors who skim an IMBA trail book and then tell their crews; "that's good enough", "let's move on". If crew supervisors and land managers are not mountain bikers who have built trails, they will never understand the needs for most of the design features created for safety and sustainability, and fun. You need to be pro-active and find a way to get on that trail and make improvements that showcase your skills and show others how to preserve trails.

  7. #7
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    I would highly recommend NOT touching anything the other group has built until, and if, they or the land manager ask you to do it. We (all of us, group or individual) are not happy when someone changes our work, especially without talking to us first. If they ask, then yes, otherwise, build your own.

    Their is also the issue of putting lipstick on their ugly pig, you will eventually get tagged with their crappy builds.
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  8. #8
    Trail Prospector
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Prodigal Son View Post
    If crew supervisors and land managers are not mountain bikers who have built trails, they will never understand the needs for most of the design features created for safety and sustainability, and fun.

    Volunteer to add some grade dips or reversals in sections most likely to deteriorate from fast moving rainwater. The builders and designers and land managers need to (first get to) know you and see how you would have done it. Make improvements that showcase your skills and show others how to preserve trails...(edited)
    Believe this ^^^ highlights the key issues, and TPS is spot on. +1
    The best is the one you want to ride most often..

  9. #9
    zrm
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    40% grades? "according to US Fish and Wildlife standards"? (USF&W has nothing to do with trail design beyond how the alignment effects wildlife habitat) None of this sounds like a legitimate trail building organization. Who are these folks you're talking about? Didi they do it with the blessing/guidance of the land agency?

    It's always undesirable and tricky to get into public pi$$ing matches with other groups or public land agencies but simply getting the word out about sound trail design/construction practice and maybe get a statement from IMBA re: whether this trail is "endorsed" by IMBA or not.

  10. #10
    trail rat
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    Steep, think about it. A ~40% grade is a ~22% slope, meaning it climbs 1 foot for every ~2.5 feet distance traveled. That means you would climb over 2100 feet vertical in a mile distance! That is not a sustainable trail anywhere but the rock of Moab or Sedona.

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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Relayden View Post
    How can one publicly combat the mis-information without looking as if we were envious or trying to advertise our business? Our concern is that this type of wrongly built trail is considered the right one to build in this region, therefore we stay in the dark ages... Plus it's a waste of labor, resources and time, etc.
    My $0.02: You can't fix this. At least not right away. Your analysis of the situation is probably correct, that unless you are invited to help, your efforts will be seen as an attempt to interfere. Pointing out the obvious flaws in the design of the trail in question after it has been built won't fix it, but will give the builders someone to shift the focus of the discussion to.

    My $0.02: Do your work well and your credibility will soar. The poorly built trails will bring disgrace to everyone associated with them, unfortunately the flaws may take a few years to become obvious. If anyone asks your opinion, be discrete, but honest. (Few things makes me more suspicious than a businessman bad-mouthing someone else's work. On the other hand, if I ask someone why the other guy doesn't seem to know what he's doing, and he has a plausible explanation, that is different and appreciated.)

    My $0.02: It's hard to watch someone screw up something you know how to do well. However, part of being an adult is staying out of other people's business.

    It seems fairly likely that you may be called in to fix the problems at some point. Having established your credibility and adult good sense will give your assessment of the situation authority.

    (I'm not a trail building professional, so take my opinions for what they are worth.)

    Walt

  12. #12
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    When they say they are working with "someone" who is an expert, always ask for a name. You can ask it like you just have a friendly interest ("What's his name? I may have met him at a trail conference"). If they give you a name, a quick Web search will usually give you enough information to judge their expertness.

    They can't very well say the name is secret, because people who are working with a true expert usually want to brag about it, so they either end up giving you the name or you catch them in a lie because their expert doesn't really exist. Either way, you know more than you did before you asked the question.

  13. #13
    Unpredictable
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    Define "true expert"?

  14. #14
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    Define "true expert" is exactly right. I've been building and maintaining trails since the late 80's and maybe I'm a little slow but I'm still learning new stuff everyday. I've yet to meet a "true expert".

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    The big problem with posting on forums is you try to capture something in a couple of sentences that probably requires several paragraphs. Then someone wants to have a sematics discussion about the meaning of one word, which was used in an attempt to replace several entire sentences with just one word.

    For the purposes of this discussion, a "true' expert is someone who can build a sustainable trail using the IMBA rules and has a sufficient background of work that their competency can be determined by either asking other trail "experts" and/or searching for their name on-line. In the case being discussed above, the said "expert" either doesn't exist or is entirely unaware of how to build sustainable trail. So a true expert is someone who actually exists and has lots of relevant experience, in contrast to a fictional, non-true expert.

    What constitutes a true, "true expert" trail builder might make for a very interesting new thread.

  16. #16
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    bweide, I know what you were saying and that it was a summary comment.

    I guess apart from developing skills over time, the concept of true expert was really a way of saying that affiliation with an organisation like IMBA or a professional building company can be seen as a definition of expert, whereas it is really a means to an end; or not in this case. Some builders, like those identified in this thread, build first and think later. Interesting though that a career builder can be put in the position of watching a train wreck and not knowing how to deal with it. Somehow this seems to be one of the cracks in the floor that is yet to be closed. Logic seems to say fix it for the sake of the bush, yet rules and politics make people question that logic.

    The true expert needed is one expert in protocol.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by bweide View Post
    The big problem with posting on forums is you try to capture something in a couple of sentences that probably requires several paragraphs. Then someone wants to have a sematics discussion about the meaning of one word, which was used in an attempt to replace several entire sentences with just one word.

    For the purposes of this discussion, a "true' expert is someone who can build a sustainable trail using the IMBA rules and has a sufficient background of work that their competency can be determined by either asking other trail "experts" and/or searching for their name on-line. In the case being discussed above, the said "expert" either doesn't exist or is entirely unaware of how to build sustainable trail. So a true expert is someone who actually exists and has lots of relevant experience, in contrast to a fictional, non-true expert.

    What constitutes a true, "true expert" trail builder might make for a very interesting new thread.
    What also makes for an interesting discussion is "who gets to decide". Right now in Sedona the number one FS volunteer trail builder gets to decide where the new trails are going to be initially routed then re-routed when the archeologist gets to take their look. As the person who has built more new trails than anyone else, that person gets to pretty much decide where the new trails are going to be routed.

    Some of the other people in the mountain biking community feel like there should be some kind of democratic process that should be gone through to figure out the actual final routing of the trail. The number one volunteer trail builder doesn't like to waste time, so with his girl friends approval (she is in charge of Parks and Recreation) he puts the trail where he feels it will work best.

    It is interesting watching the other people who want to be involved because they feel it should be a democratic bottom up process. Until they get some actual successful trail building experience I think they are out of luck for the time being.

    In Sedona if you want to be one of the deciders you better have some successful projects that you have designed and built before you are going to be considered for one of the decider positions.

    We also have our own local trail building standard that the FS has embraced. When IMBA did their trail crew workshop in Sedona a couple months ago, they were told very quickly that we don't build trails like that in Sedona. The IMBA trail crew leaders were kinda miffed, but they did their best to adjust to the number one volunteer FS trail builder's Sedona standard of building new trails.

    It will be interesting if there will be any new Sedona trail route deciders in the near future.Trail routing in rugged terrain is not something just any garden variety trail router can do successfully without a lot of previous experience.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by traildoc View Post
    When IMBA did their trail crew workshop in Sedona a couple months ago, they were told very quickly that we don't build trails like that in Sedona.
    Can you describe what they do in Sedona that is different than what IMBA recommends? What is their justification?

    Quote Originally Posted by traildoc View Post
    It is interesting watching the other people who want to be involved because they feel it should be a democratic bottom up process. Until they get some actual successful trail building experience I think they are out of luck for the time being.
    Yeah, and as long as the current power structure is in place those people will never get the opportunity to develop any experience. When the current trail god finally moves on there will be a huge vacuum since nobody will be prepared to step into his shoes. That's too bad...

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by BonkedAgain View Post
    Yeah, and as long as the current power structure is in place those people will never get the opportunity to develop any experience. When the current trail god finally moves on there will be a huge vacuum since nobody will be prepared to step into his shoes. That's too bad...
    Yes, agreed! The problem with most "trail layout designers" no matter whether it is one or a crew of 10, I'm talking volunteers, unpaid, here, is they are not open to allowing new people in to learn the craft and continue on into the next 20, 50, 100 years. I see it in so many places, very sad that the egos are so huge that they cannot pass it on to the next generations of trail builders.
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  20. #20
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    Hey Trail Doc, I was wondering the same thing. Perhaps rockier, less erosive soils allow you to tweak the more conservative IMBA guidelines? But you make it sound more like you are doing things completely contrary to IMBA and not just modifying a bit for local conditions.

  21. #21
    saddlemeat
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    We like designer trails and encourage qualified* individuals to develop routes. Nothing worse than a system full of committee trails, all neatly benched to IMBA standards, and what I suspect was Traildoc's point.

    An expert is one who is experienced** enough to produce a predictably excellent product. Experts bring wonderful things to a project and are fun to work with. Experts can successfully break the rules even.

    *experienced builder/rider with a passion for that particular route.
    **I would say a minimum of ten years, much the same as any other trade. We gain expertise by encountering a wide variety of situations and observing the long term effects of how we handled them.
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    Understood, I don't really like overbuilt trails either. Around here, the FS wants all trails to accommodate horses. They don't really understand that bikers enjoy minimalist rock slab trails that are much less impactive on the environment. While I think IMBA appreciates the minimalist style, most of the photos in their books show rather heavily constructed trails.

  23. #23
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    I constantly wrestle with that when I'm laying out trails. I love putting in rollers and fast, banked turns for bikes, but hikers find that kind of thing annoying. Equestrian friendly design basically blows away making a trail fun for bikers, not to mention that horses usually grind up features that are fun for bikes.

    I usually am asked to help out on multi-use trails, so I have to find a middle ground. I suspect that IMBA is trying to encourage the whole get along with your neighbors concept, so I bet that is why they tone down most of their examples.

    I'm currently involved in one project that would be awesome with an 18-24" tread, but, because the land manager wants to have the possibility of allowing horses (even though none are allowed in the park now) he wants a 36" tread, which on the 50-70% sideslopes where the trail is being built, more than doubles the amount of earth that has to be moved to build a good tread. So, a project that we originally thought might take maybe five years using volunteer labor may just never get done since the volunteers will burn out from heaving yard after yard of dirt down the hill. Yeah, I know, something that big should be machine built, but there is no money for that...

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by BonkedAgain View Post
    Can you describe what they do in Sedona that is different than what IMBA recommends? What is their justification?
    +1...bump
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  25. #25
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    Wow, good input, thanks to all that took the time to reply!

    Trail was really badly built, I mean perfect example of don't do's. However, this didn't mean that it was not fun to ride, it was for most users. To me, the fun areas were shadowed by their build, and to me that's priority #1. SUSTAINABILITY I want to ride good trails again and again, not good today, so so next month and awful or gone next year. And here's the thing, I guess that 90 to 95% of users here don't realize that! On top of that, and seeing the big picture here, if it's not sustainable, it erodes, therefore carrying the whole lot of consequences of it. Man it's really frustrating.

    Now, some criticize IMBA and their standards as they may seem conservative. Well, they are for a reason, they work!. They're basically a compendium of field observations and experience mixed with common sense and understanding of basic physical laws. I arrived at some of the same conclusions before I even knew IMBA existed. One can always stretch them depending on terrain and weather. However I think our perception of what a trail should be, shouldn't go above of it's sustainability, that is, if you really care about it. If you build were I do, were we get regular big downpours plus (storms and hurricanes) you'd quickly learn to appreciate those ''standards''.

    I have built a few miles in different trails around our island (on my time and expense), and while people really enjoy them, few realize how well they stay in good shape over time, and the difference can be quite big. We are currently about to finally see a project's first phase come to light (government can really be bureaucratic) that will showcase a skills park along with a few miles of beginner trails (currently non-existing in the whole island) that will set a benchmark down here. Hopefully, new users will really notice a difference and support us.

    As for the trails mentioned above, they already had to re-route the 40% climbs because of rain damage...well, may wisdom shine inside their heads rather than ego...

    And I completely agree with this ''We gain expertise by encountering a wide variety of situations and observing the long term effects of how we handled them'' bsieb... However, if you learn from others mistakes, you can and should prevent making them yourself.

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