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Beyond the Ride: How to be a Steward of the Trail

A lazy image

Peaked Interest

As I rolled my mountain bike into my house, I admired my new shiny, two-wheeled fun vessel and took a moment to reflect. I had just moved to Bend, Oregon three months prior and I didn’t know a soul upon arrival. I hadn’t planned on buying a new mountain bike, but the contagious energy of other riders inspired me to join the proverbial party and get lost in the weaving single-track trails throughout Central Oregon. As a result, I experienced kindness and a sense of inclusion from not only the shop that had sold me the bike, but also the local bike community at large.

I sat down and flipped through the thick set of “new bike owner” papers to find a sneaky sticker peeking out of the folder pocket that read “COTA.” I recalled that my bike purchase automatically came with a membership to the local trail stewardship organization, the Central Oregon Trail Alliance. Upon visiting the website, I noticed the tagline Building Trails Since 1992. My interest piqued, and I realized that I definitely wanted to learn more about the world of trails.

Trails don’t build themselves. The dirt, debris and fallen trees are all moved with machinery, tools and calloused hands. New trails are built and existing trails are maintained by small groups of passionate humans contributing their time and tenacity–to literally and figuratively–support and shape the places we recreate.

Be a Steward of the Trails

Stay Informed

Commitment, passion and advocacy come in many forms. Nonprofit trail stewardship organizations exist all over the country. Willing, inspired volunteers are critical to these organizations and the maintenance and buildout of new trails. Whether you’re looking to get your hands in the dirt, or be a steward for your community in another way, here are some ideas about how to get started:

  • Discover what trail stewardship organizations are in your region. If you’re not sure which organizations are leading the charge in your area, stop by your local bike shop to inquire.
  • Reach out to your local trail work organization and become a member. COTA membership dollars financially support the administration and operations of the organization.
  • Subscribe to the organization’s newsletter, follow the social channels and sign up for “Meet Up” or other various event platforms that will inform you when trail events are happening in the community.

Volunteer

Want to volunteer your time? Trail stewardship isn’t always a dirty task. There are myriad ways to be a trail steward. Think about what the organization might need at the moment relative to operations, marketing, management or even committee leadership. Understand the organization’s potential opportunities and offer your time in areas that align with your expertise, passion, and curiosity. You may even find yourself applying to be on the Board of Directors and spearheading the organization’s operations and mission.

  • Trail work – Attend a work party! If you thrive on physical activity, love getting your hands in the dirt and find satisfaction in contributing to the progression of a small or large project, give trail work a chance. Seasoned trail builders and organization leaders are always eager to teach new volunteers how to build a new trail or maintain an existing trail. Plus, trail work parties are fun and full of spirited volunteers with a shared passion. By building and maintaining trails, you are inviting yourself to witness a new perspective. It’s a sacred relationship with the land, the dirt and an intimate exploration of your own turf. Trail workers are a critical component to trail stewardship. Without trail workers, we wouldn’t have trails. Without trails, we wouldn’t have mountain biking as most of us know it today.
  • Planning – Are you curious about planning future trails or working with the local Forest Service? Do you want to be at the head of new trail development? The trail planning process often takes up to 50% of the whole timeline. It’s often a time consuming, bureaucratic and detail-oriented process that involves many individuals dedicated to the process.
  • Marketing – Are you a photographer eager to capture the trail crews at work or local riders enjoying the tails? Are you a web designer eager to contribute to marketing campaigns or building the organization’s brand? Do you like to plan events or curate community partnerships? Are you a copywriter or storytelling willing to write newsletters or social media posts? Communicating the organization’s mission and inviting others to join is community-oriented, creative and fun.
  • Fundraising – Do you love meeting people and advocating for a cause in the community? Do you have a wide network of contacts that are eager to financially support outdoor recreation? Are you interested in writing grants or general outreach? Are you willing to “hit the streets” and fundraise for trails?
  • Finance – Are you willing to tackle challenges and celebrate financial wins? Accounting, forecasting and financial management professionals are critical to the successful operations of a trail stewardship organization.

Remember the ripple effect: building community around a shared vision and passion will enable you to feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself. The power of community integration will unfold new dimensions in the sport of mountain biking that you may have yet to explore. The ripples of your advocacy will reach far out beyond your immediate interactions and conversations. Don’t hesitate! Become a member, invite others to trail building work parties, plan events, talk to bike shops and collaborate with community partners to fundraise all in the name of trail stewardship.

When you get to experience that moment of euphoria after landing a perfect jump, remember the sweaty foreheads and many shovels of the phantom humans who fine-tuned all the loved aspects of that dirt jump. Think about the people power in the background of the trail magic. These trails don’t build and maintain themselves – trails braided through our countryside are powered by many stewards willing to commit their time and energy to the growth of this sport—are you next?

Cover Photo: PEARL iZUMi

Post Photos: Javan Ward, 29NRTH.com

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