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  1. #1
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    Problem with Trail Work Days Article

    The Fundamental Problem with Modern Day Work Parties and Trail Building | Bike198

    Not saying I agree or disagree with the article, just some food for thought. I've definitely been to trail days like the ones discussed in the article. I've been to others that were great about taking input from the riders who were there.

  2. #2
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    I posted this reply in another forum:

    Having had the opportunity to design and lead the construction of many miles of trail over the last few years I think I can speak to this. It has been my experience that once you get more than two people involved in the design of a trail you quickly bog down in endless squabbling, ego contests, public battles, etc. I have heard other trail designers say the same thing in other trail forums. It just doesn't work to try and build a trail by committee. And that is just the design phase, if you go out there on build day and start trying to do big design changes then all chaos breaks loose. The fact is, while lots of people think they know how a trail should be built, not a lot of them have the experience or the background to consider all the factors that have to be considered to create a fun, sustainable, trail that appeals to anybody other than themselves. So, until you have paid your dues by going to trail design school, apprenticing with experienced designers, and turning out for countless build days, STFU and follow the flag-line that the designer put down. Bottom line: if you want that kind of input then you have to get involved before build day. If you suspect the trail design won't take into the account the needs of the local biking community then the time to make that known is during the design phase, not on the build day.

    Don't try to tell me that this discourages volunteerism. Most volunteers are just showing up because they think it sounds like fun, gives them a way to pay some "dues" for a trail area they like, or whatever. There aren't that many that come out hoping to design features into a trail while they build it. I don't worry about losing volunteers because they weren't given free reign to do what they want when they got to the work area. If somebody actually sounds like they might have a knack for it then I will encourage them to get involved in future projects, but I'm not turning them loose that day. I'm sorry that some people get offended when they come to a trail build day, suggest a reroute, and get shutdown, but that simply is not the time to be talking about big changes to the design.

    OK, now that I've gotten that off my chest, I will admit that when out building trail if there is a crew leader that I know well and trust to do good work, if they or someone in their group suggests a change to the design that I think can be made without causing total confusion I will say Go for it! I don't pretend to have all the answers, nor do I claim to have completely thought out every linear foot of trail that I laid out. I don't want to squash creativity, but I don't want self-assured wannabes creating disasters, either.

    But really, the best way to handle this situation is to do a wider review after the initial design is laid out. I like to get reps from the various user groups together and go over the design to help establish buy-in and to look for improvements. This can be time consuming and painful since you typically have people with little or no design background asking you why you don't just go straight up the fall-line. You end up doing mini trail building seminars so that people understand why things were done the way they were done, and even then some people will never be convinced. In the end you get a better trail design and you have people who will come out on build day with enthusiasm rather than second guessing the design decisions and whining all day.

    Such is life in any human endeavor that involves more than about three people. In any case, if you want to avoid diatribes like the one from Robb Sutton then you have to be prepared to burn up a lot of time selling the concept and letting others give their input before any tools touch the dirt.

  3. #3
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    Re: Problem with Trail Work Days Article

    There are a few somewhat valid points the author makes but I feel that he is making gross over generalizations that mainly apply to himself and don't carry weight where I live and work trails.

    Statements like this:
    "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."

    Just a bit of over generalization and I don't think that the assumptions he makes are correct.

    I disagree on a lot of his points and may take the time to address them all later.

    But mainly we as the trail workers with the tools in our hands have a tremendous amount of creativity and say in the work we do. Granted it has to be done within the corridor and perimeters of the trail designation, but those are the rules of the game.

    But ultimately the trail champion, crew leaders, and the land manager have the largest say. It sounds like the author has run into some very poorly skilled trail crew leaders or maybe folks that are micro managing the crew. If you want creativity become the champion and provide the vision and follow through to make a trail.

    As someone who is a crew leader and has participated in many trail days, I don't feel like the author, even remotely, represents how most of the trail days go in our area.

    If you don't like the way a crew leader runs his crew find a different one. But to say that your (the author's) experience is the fundamental problem with trail building is way off base. I rarely, if ever, see creativity stifled if it makes sense and is not something way off base.

    Folks also volunteer for various reasons. Usually its about giving back. The author does it for creativity and fun and he apparently also feels under appreciated.

    I ride great trail all the time with great rhythm and use of the landscape. Its a shame the trails sucks where ever he lives.
    Should you do more trail work?

  4. #4
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    [QUOTE=BonkedAgain;10837857]nor do I claim to have completely thought out every linear foot of trail that I laid out.

    This, to me, is an issue, and a big reason why many of the people who are designing and/or building trails should not be doing so. Before I ever build anything, I usually hike the area back and forth, sometimes for years, at different times of day, different times of year, in different weather conditions, and with a variety of different people. This allows me to know every inch of trail before ever starting work, and also gives me many different individuals ideas to supplement my own.
    If more people rode more bikes, more places, more often, the world would be a more better place!

  5. #5
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    Yeah, the analogy of building jumps as kids to what needs to happen at a typical volunteer trail day is pretty dumb. I guarantee you'll end with a disaster (and not a fun one) of a trail if you just tell 100 random people to go get creative with Pulaskis. And if the trail day and the trail are disasters - the land manager is not going to be super psyched on more trails or more volunteer labor.

    If you're still spending lots of time being creative and changing things while digging/cutting/raking/sweating, you didn't plan ahead well, IMO, and your trail will probably suck. There are places where you can kind of just get on your bike and wander and rake off some duff/move a rock or log or two and end up with a decent trail but in most areas it really requires getting out the clinometer, some basic surveying stuff, and flagging/changing/flagging again until you've got something that works well. Even in places where you could theoretically go out and ride something in, planning ahead isn't going to hurt you.

    The creative part has to happen ahead of time when you're surveying and planning. If that's not fun enough, might be best to confine your digging to your back yard like when you were a kid...


  6. #6
    Dirt Monkey
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    +1 for a small design crew and sticking to the plan when it comes time to execute. I have been involved in many creative projects (not just trail building) and when everyone's input is taken into consideration (without merit) the result is rarely spectacular. The best people to do the design work are those who have past experience, are willing to put in the time, have a clear vision of the end product, and are aware of the constraints the design has to follow (again this doesn't just apply to trail building).

    When I lead a work crew, I don't find that volunteers are driven away by sticking to the plan even if the work is monotonous and "uncreative." A lot of the people I know who think that way won't come out to help period. Those that do show up seem happy to be giving something back to trails and generally understand why things are being done the way they are (if not I do my best to explain). I have had to put my foot down in the past when someone suggests modifying the plan on build day, but if it is a feasible idea which will add to the trail we try to work it in. However, many times the suggestion involves creating fall line trails, abrupt interruptions in the flow of the trail, or "shortcutting" the amount of work needed to create a lasting feature (eg. half benching when the benching gets hard). These are things most non-designers won't be thinking about and won't be responsible for in the future.

    If the author thinks there isn't enough creativity in joining a work crew, the only suggestion I can give to those who think this is true is to step up and become one of those trail designers. Gaining some perspective on the other side of the fence will likely change their thoughts on the subject.

  7. #7
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    The issue with allowing everyone creative license is that you'll get nothing done. Every trail work day is like herding kittens: "why are you doing this, why don't you do that, why not do it this way....", often with the alternatives boiling down to 6 of one and a half-dozen of the other. The time to flesh all of that out is passed by the time the TWD arrives. If the local trail building/maintenance organization is effectively structured, there are ways for individuals showing enthusiasm and dedication to get more involved over time and to eventually be invited into the design phase.

  8. #8
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    Frankly, it's a waste of time to listen to a suggestion about how your trail should be built from someone that doesn't know their backside from a hole in the ground when it comes to what it takes to build a trail correctly.

  9. #9
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    The guy making that post could be one of a number in our area out building illegal trail despite being aware of a land manager encouraging authorised trail work. Someone who sees grade reversals and benching as some sort of dumbed-down highway. Someone who feels a trail should be made with a garden trowel and a pair of scissors, taking every chance to use the fall line, avoid drainage and make it impossible to turn your pedals without hitting the upslope or navigate off-camber corners past penetrating punjies and outslope sticks suspended over an abyss. Someone who's enemies are flow and contribution to the wider MTB community. Someone selfish enough to believe that the best trails are those only they can ride, so they can feel like a big man. Someone who will be off making another trail with soul while their last effort degrades and dies or is left to "volunteers" to re-create like silk from a pig's ear, for an upset land manager. In this area they do whatever they want, apparently, while legitimate works are delayed during the planning, proposal and acceptance phases, some of that always devoted to the who is going to do the work issue. At least they don't put shit on people at work parties, because they don't ever come.

    It really is simplistic and selfish to dismiss new trail not made specifically to your personal design as construction, rather than trail care. It's like saying the train line up the Jungfrau is the same as the New York underground network - they both have tunnels after all, and anyone can use them.... Also, guess what, not everyone building them got to choose the "trail' line and add features like dodgy to deadly bridges made out of kindling.

    Now, having said all that, these guys are out there and there is near to nothing you can do about them. They don't help make life better for other riders or the wider volunteer community and probably never will, because they see their higher truth. But I am prepared waste breath and finger prints on this blog to point out a few things that are positively identified by the dude:

    Planning and mapping are paramount - almost anyone can understand the why of it, if the planned line is a good one

    I, too have really sincere doubts a trail can be punched out fast and be ideal. Focus on distance must be balanced with quality. Quality does not equal difficulty, nor creativity. It may be a reality that machinery and large crews of labourers (volunteers) may be needed, can and do achieve bigger outputs on some jobs, but only a bike and lots of micro-testing can assure a starting line. Even then, riders will finesse it and any new trail is only a template for consensus lines chosen by all

    Test bikes remain the ultimate trail building tool

    A good crew can and does adjust as they go. It takes a master visionary, or a bloody-minded, big machine to get it right first time. Re-flagging part of a line that corners you on poorly drained or steep terrain farther up-trail is no more important than trusting the crew you work with to tweak trail features, the inslope angle, lines of sight and trail flow metre by metre. Point is, unless you have unlimited access to building materials of all kinds, means to get them in and skills to use them as needed, then you will never get the trail line right until you get it right.

    Sometimes a good rider can help as much as a good builder with line details. Suggestions are always useful if presented appropriately and in a timely fashion

    While trail crews continue to look for new volunteers, struggle to add to the limited pool of experienced people to volunteer their time and effort and while bozos with big ideas continue to avoid offering that help, the author of the blog can be assured that only small and closely-knit trail crews will exist in many places. Oddly, that is exactly what he is looking for while yelling in the other direction.

  10. #10
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    I'm all for getting input from others on trail design but the time for that is not on a build day. If you want to have input into how a trail is designed, then you need to get involved much earlier than that. Any successful trail day will have been planned in advance and have a specific set of things to be done, with specific methods in mind. If it isn't done this way, very little ends up getting accomplished. I know this from experience.

    Now, when I plan a build day, I have a very specific plan for what needs to be done and I communicate that to everyone before anyone does anything. At that stage, there is no room for further creative input, for better or worse as it interferes with getting the task at hand done.

    And you know what? I don't feel the least bit bad about not being receptive to creative input on a build day. I'm the one that put in the time on the front end to design the trail and deal with the administrative bullplop. So far on my current trail project, I've put ~100 hours in bushwhacking through tight woods on rough terrain in order to find the best route for the trail, marking the line, assessing water behaviour, figuring out grades, and getting a bead on what ground work needs to be done in order to get a sensible tread. Why should I feel obligated to deviate from my plan on a build day on the whim of someone who might be seeing it for the first time? Even if they're an experienced builder, if they haven't spent any time in the area to get a feel for the terrain they're driving blind. It goes both ways too. If I go to a trail day planned by someone else, I do what I'm asked to do and don't try to get creative.

    Don't get me wrong, I hugely appreciate anyone who shows up for a trail day and I actively solicit their opinions in the planning phase. For example, in the current project, after a couple of walkthroughs with experienced riders and one experienced builder, I decided to amend the line in a couple of places based on their input. However, when the time comes to break ground, it's my way or the highway.

    So, basically what everyone else is saying.

  11. #11
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    It is easy to over react to this article but take it for what it is: a bold (probably exaggerated) statement meant to be provocative.

    I agree with much of what is said in this thread, but I still found two useful ideas in the article.

    1. Focus on quality rather than quantity.

    This is worth some thought. I've been leading the development of a new a new trail system over the last few years. I have had a pretty methodical approach to scouting the entire area, laying out a long term master plan, and laying out each trail to make best use of the terrain. The flip side is that I have had a somewhat scattered approach to implementation. I have alternated between rushing ahead to just punch in some trail and going back to make improvements to make it more fun/rideable/flowy as time permits. Many of the trails started out as a mix of brilliant sections and real hike-a-bike crap.

    Now we have a few loop option of reasonable length and good quality. This means that I going forward I can proceed with building higher quality the first time through, which will be less stressful.

    The question is whether should I have started building consistent quality in the first place? It is easy to say yes, but what can you do with 0.5 mile of well built trail all by itself? Who will drive 20 minutes out of their way to ride a 5 minute long trail?

    2. Ownership inspires volunteers.

    I believe that great design isn't done democratically. That doesn't mean it is done in isolation either. A good leader takes input from many sources, but filters and condenses it into a coherent theme.

    That's all great, but how do you inspire volunteers? We have a core group of folks who do the bulk of the trail work. There is larger group of people who come to trail days, and even larger group who just ride. There will always be a distribution like this, but how to you skew it toward more people who are more involved?

    We created an adopt-a-trail maintenance program in our area to this year. It allows people to work on their trail on their own schedule. The program is already including new people in trail work and recognizing and organizing people who were out there doing work on there own anyway. This is a great start, but what else can we do to inspire more people? Our club currently has more land open for trail building than we know what to do with.

  12. #12
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    I can't read the article, due to my firewall disliking it...

    but based on the comments, I gather this is about input at build-time vs just going by the plan?

    Do you guys have those kinds of issues, people being dissatisfied with very limited input?

    Most of the volunteers that show up to my workdays seem like they just want to be told what to do. I do try to get input, in the sense that I'll spell out something pretty specific and ask "what do you think?" or "does that sound/look like a good line?" 99% of the time whoever I ask agrees, and when they do have a suggestion, it's always a very slight change. If I say 'we could do this, or that' it's rare for anyone to have an opinion on which would be better. People seem decision-averse enough that I usually can't even set a couple people on rock armoring because they can't/wont decide which rock to put where.
    Maybe I'm just lucky? It seems like most people that are out just like riding and want a sense of ownership or at least to know what goes into building trails.

    I can certainly see how having 20 guys that each wanted to lay out their own lines would be frustrating, I've just never seen anyone act like if they couldn't lay out the trail themselves they weren't going to come out.

  13. #13
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    It's okay to be against dumbed-down trails.

    But, I'm equally as irritated as everyone else here with "glam diggers" who show up to help only when they get to make design decisions on major aspects.

  14. #14
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    I'm pretty much of the same mind as most of the people responding here.

    I totally disagree with the author's premise that not allowing volunteers to have design input on the day-of-construction is a significant factor in keeping volunteer numbers down. In my experience, the people who want that kind of last minute input are exactly the ones who should not have it.

    It's hard enough, but useful to get two people to agree on a trail layout. That's if both of them take the time to look things over several times. The worst possible way to lay out a trail is to have some otherwise nice idiots competing to string together a bunch of "cool" features while I'm trying to get a bunch of noobs organized. Get the trail around where it needs to go first, work to eliminate, or at least minimize the fall-line sections, make it work together to reduce momentum killers (make it flow), then put in the jumps, skinnies and other stuff LAST.

    Still dealing here with the results of some "design by committee" trail. Uggh.

    (I've made more than my share of mistakes. The difference is I've stuck around to see, fix, and hopefully learn from the consequences.)


  15. #15
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    The author of the article is clearly a "Glam Digger" (love that term) disconnected from the trail system he so selflessly donated his precious time.

    I assume you builders in this forum are as completely obsessed as I with trail building and maintenance at your particular patch. It is we not I who walk the land and trails, clear brush, perform needed repairs (mostly absent of large trail crews), deal with land managers, and oh yes design and build trails. I am fortunate to work with several people all equally dedicated and obsessed to deliver a quality product to our customers. This is not a secret club of leadership but open to anyone interested and willing to do the work and stay committed. They all (4) have input in design and construction they earned it they have learned and are very capable.

    This interloper expects design control with I can only assume no apprenticeship or commitment. He probably has high criticism for this trail system with no interaction with the stewards of the place.

    We all know them they, love to ride the place and offer their recommendations for improvement, but ask them to give you a day of work and now they got hurt feelings.

    Thanks for the support A hole.

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  17. #17
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    Glam Digger! I am so going to use that.

  18. #18
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    Two pieces of wisdom to pull here:
    -"Glam Diggers"
    -Rip: "...riders will finesse it and any new trail is only a template for consensus lines chosen by all..."

    Both good for the walls of the tool trailer.

    One of the things that gets lost in the blog/rant is the vision of the Builder.

    [Written assuming a good builder and a good organization] If an individual shows up for a work day and expects meaningful input into character and that individual is not the Trail Boss or a Crew Leader, then they're a bit niave. Every trail builder has their corridor and the tread; almost every builder also has the things that will need expert attention & maybe a feature or two, that unless there are serious numbers and seriously experienced crew leads those "tech builds) won't be on the radar for a big day.

    A good Crew Lead/Boss should lay out the vision and mention the longer term goals vs. that day's goals. Most builders are looking to get heavy lifting, i.e. lots of bench, done with the big work day crews, and then invite out the Crew Leads and dedicated diggers (they need a name, Brother/Sister Gnome Apprentice No. 1 jumps to mind) to roll up the sleeves and knock out the finesse. Beers are good for these sessions.

    Showing up on the work day and arguing with or making "suggestions" to the builders doesn't get an individual invited to the finishing touch work days with beer.

  19. #19
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    New question here.

    Quote Originally Posted by thefriar View Post
    . . . and then invite out the Crew Leads and dedicated diggers (they need a name, Brother/Sister Gnome Apprentice No. 1 jumps to mind) to roll up the sleeves and knock out the finesse. Beers are good for these sessions.

    . . .
    Spicewookie (one of my fellow builders in this area) calls these "Special Ops" crews. ; )

  20. #20
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    After designing and building multiple trails in our area (Okanagan, BC) I've found that the best strategy is to flag it out by yourself, walk it with a trusted / respected builder, then organize a trail-day.

    Upon setting out with your crew, hold a five minute "introduction to the concept" talk with them. Explain the project / goals and your expectations. The rule is, unless something has been grossly overlooked (very rare) the project goes ahead as flagged... Period.

    We have a gig going here where everyone who joins the club and shows a vested interest in trail building / maintenance gets a free copy of the IMBA trail building manual.

    Andrew Drouin
    South Okanagan Trail Alliance - SOTA

  21. #21
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    You know I lead tons of "work parties" a year, But I like to think of people coming out to do trail work more as a dig-trade. The trade may be very simple like an age appropriate beverage and a clif bar, or a shuttle lap, some BBQ or some swag or all of they above. plus they get to warm and fuzzy feeling that they gave back to the trails they enjoy. Really it all depends on how involved the person wants to get. Come out one time and think you'll get to sway things, hardy. Come out a lot, your a bro and bros build rad trails together.

    So yes a general "work party" does kind of end up being a labor crew but people who come out a lot get that it takes labor to get stuff done. Although the more dedicated a person is to a project the more likely they will get pulled aside and ask what they think or given a zone to do what they want with.

    I do agree with the slow down and not just try to put out miles. I like to take the time to build rad trails that will last. I bet I build half as much trail as your "avg" builder would but people are x2 as likely to make a point to come back to ride the stuff I work on over and over.
    Epic trails get built in the Northwest by epic people!

    Sustainable quality trails please.

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