Trail builder's blues-
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  1. #1
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Jan 2004

    Trail builder's blues

    I am looking for some advice/wisdom on how to not get burned out on a trail project.

    Back story: 5 years ago I was approached about building a trail on some land owned by our City via the Park and Recreation department. I did the scouting, created a proposal and finally got the final blessing and started cutting trail in March 2018. It is ~115 acres in a suburban environment.

    Who I am: I am a volunteer and have cut my trail building teeth on other local trails over the past 20 years. I have opened new sections of trail and led work days but this is the 1st time Iíve been ďIn chargeĒ of an entire trail project.

    Current status: we are ~3 miles in and there is a lot of interest and activity around the trail. I have a couple of volunteer partners but I lost my main partner in crime who shared my big picture perspective last winter. (He moved) The goal is at least 5 miles when complete.

    I feel like a project manager working for a company trying to get results but I have no real authority or leverage over people (aka firing them), not to mention no paycheck .

    You never realize how much there is to deal with until you experience it. Hereís the list of things off the top of my head.

    1) keeping it a good MTB trail
    2) keeping it multi skill level friendly
    3) protecting the cityís liability (within reason of course) and maintaining their trust in me(us)
    4) keeping motivated volunteers focused on the priorities without alienating them
    5) keeping the build standard high
    6) keeping the big picture of the entire trail system in focus
    7) preventing people with their own agenda from going rogue without alienating them
    8) acquiring materials and tools.

    Thankfully monetary support has been fairly easy to get from the local MTB crowd. People will pay when they have guilt for not helping. The City is becoming more supportive, trailhead kiosk (s) will be in the budget for next year and they just bought trail marking signs

    I do get help from some people but when those people donít share the big picture and aren't really willing to take on any responsibility itís not the kind of help I really need.

    Iím struggling to not get burned out right now.

  2. #2
    mtbr member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Inexperienced volunteers are very difficult to work with. You need to have very specific tasks for them to complete. Often times a paid crew will spend half a day un-doing what the volunteers did on the last volunteer day.

    Things they can't **** up too bad....
    Building small bridges with guidance. Bench cutting with guidance. Moving rocks.

    My experience has been that people think they know how to build trail because they ride trail. The trail you're building...for the city, publicized, in their neighborhood, is exactly the kind of project they all want to get in on. None of them want to pay dues doing the grunt work, they all want to build some cool feature that's going to show everyone how skilled and creative they are. All these usually suck.

    This type of project should be focused on community participation. Communicate with land managers about the rogue feature creating and lower your expectations on this trail. Get it in and riding. Let folks do what they will on trail days, and go back and fix it later. You can always use the excuse that the town made you do it. Getting people out to build as volunteers is not 100 percent about efficient and useful work. It might not even be 50 percent about that. Over time, *some* people will realize how inane their little rogue projects were and start to contribute in more meaningful ways. Some will never get it, thin you're a dick for "Telling them what to do" and the only work they will ever do on their own is to un-do your work. You'll never reach these folks, so be happy they are there, fix their stupid trail and move on.

    Private land with carefully selected helpers is where you want to be, but doing what you're doing can be a doorway to access to more land and more leeway.

    Anyone who has done what you are doing has so many stories that are usually hilarious. The sad reality is most riders don't know what it takes to make good trail.

  3. #3
    mtbr member
    Reputation: tbmaddux's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2012
    For me itís just a matter of contextual framing.

    Got to talking about this last year with the trail boss on a shuttle in Oregon and his take was ďit doesnít matter, itís just dirtĒ.

    I still think about that. Even more so these days. Iím not sure thereís anything on a trail that canít be fixed or thatís worth fighting over.

  4. #4
    mtbr member
    Reputation: roughster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
    I have hand dug, mostly solo, 14.5 miles of trail in super rocky / hard clod 100% clay dirt that annually gets DESTROYED by cows which I then reshape every year. I also weedwhack the entire system 2-3x a year due to emerging vegetation and thistle, all seemingly on different growth schedules and timelines. I can identify My wife calls my trail "my mistress".

    While I am currently riding a super stoke with new stuff, I went through a "blah phase" about 2 months ago. What helped?

    - Ride more for fun.

    - Ride other trails other than the one you're building.

    - Buy an e-bike. No not joking. After digging all day you will be too tired to ride usually. An ebike allows you to build and ride in the same day which keeps the stoke high!

    - Approach the trail in chunks aka how to eat an elephant. Celebrate success when you finish a section, don't focus on the fact "the whole thing" isn't done.

    - And here was the single thing that did the most for my stoke. I built the LowTow Loop. It's a short 0.3 mile section. Its out of the cows access. I knew I could knock it out in a few days of hard work. I did it pretty much solo so that I could make "my vision" be the end result. I tricked it out with how I wanted to ride it. I gave it rollers, berms, gap jumps, used pavers on a G-out turn berm.

    It has only been existence 1.5 months (first dig 07APR) and it is closing in on 700 rides and that's just by people using Strava. Reality is it's probably close to if not over 1,000 rides. It's HUGELY popular and gets raved on by pretty much everyone.

    I think LowTow made people take a step back and go, if this is the future of the trail system, sign me up. It helped other people who help dig align to a vision that they know and like from LowTow.

    So I guess long story short: Pick a small loop that can be lapped. Think of your vision for this new "gold standard section" and how that will sell your idea for the entire trail system. Go frickin build it. Pull out all the bells and whistles. Tweak, fine tune, shape, carve, ride, re-ride, shape, carve, trick out. Add jumps, add BERM berms, add rollers, add chutes / rock features, anything that will make people freakin stoked when they ride it.

    Let people know that loop is done. Encourage them to ride it. Ask for feedback. Maybe act a little bit like a hype-man. Yeah, its cheesy, but people can't help from getting stoked when they are around other that are stoked!

    Promise them the moon, and deliver in small loops:

    2020 Turbo Levo Comp
    2019 Strive CF 8
    2018 Farley EX 8

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