January 3, 2017 at 8:49 am #203839
I live in California and have been building trails for 25 years. Finally got serious around 10 years ago and started Forest Trails Alliance. A non profit community based trail building organization which acts as a collective for resources and skills required for trail building.
I own a company called Casaditerra (house of earth) that I operate as a general contractor and also a member of the Professional Trail Builders Assn. We have a broken system folks and if we ever want to get more stylized and character driven trail, we need to put some loving back into our trail industry.
Here is the problem as I see it. Most trails start with a LAND MANAGER, this individual could be a private owner, City or County staff or even work for a larger land agency. First problem is… the person who will inspire this whole effort is rarely vested or educated in what is needed. They often do not have the funding or opportunities to do the planning or field work. In my local National Forest, the top recreation officer had 16 hours of training. This is like having a baby. Is this a planned or more of an accidental effort. Is it nourished, cared for and developed with days of recon on your hands and knees finding all the sweet spots. Is the plan crafted knowing the shortfalls of over pitch alignments and good hydrology management? Probably not. The Request for Quote (RFQ) then, full of loop holes and poorly defined instruction is sent out.
So these half baked trail plans go to bid. Normally, more than half of these never reach professional trail builders and are serviced by hungry landscape contractors or road builders who have not vested interest in trails let alone this project. The work often reflects the prime motivating factor in capitalism…Do the least required as fast as possible to get paid. In the PTBA, there at least is something you can hang your hat on. Competent and vetted individuals who have committed their life to performing awesome work (to inspire the next job). There is accountability, if you screw up, piss people off, or just perform poorly, this catches up fast and the association will respond rather quickly to protect their own image and professional appearance.
Creating a more effective network for land managers to connect with needed resources like GIS, Biologists, Archaeologist, Designers, Contractors etc… is just part of the solution. The other part is the reality that natural surface trails are not transit infrastructure(we need that too!). Most trails are developed by squares who don’t understand the distinction of a road which is meant to convey you with minimal distractions to your destination vs a trail which is meant to connect you to nature and engage an emotion or provoke an experience. An artist or musician performs their work in a way that engages people. This means in addition to functional design, there needs to be a whole new set of tools employed as an designer or trail architect. This is not realistic that we could train or inspire every landmanger, so we need to support them with effective community involvement.
The crux of the matter is that great trails come from the heart and we need to empower community members into effective working groups to support better trail development. There is no one else who can do this. Most trail contractors in California are single operator types who generally go from job to job cutting trail. This works best when projects are prepared well and there is support on the ground. I created Forest Trails Alliance as a regional resource for N California to support greater trail development. For people like me who wanted to get more involved, FTA provides training, certifications, and hands on vocational experience in a range of skill sets from planning, design, equipment operation, bridge building, rock work and more. In addition to providing great work experience to train community members, FTA raises funds to reinvest in communities by developing professional regional trail crews with uniforms and helmets and opportunities to showcase their capabilities in contracts. When a contractor builds a trail, no one knows. When a community builds a trail (with a contractor) it is an event like a child being born. This is how you create vested stakeholders.
So, in short, the goals are;
- Create regional trail crews that can create the profitable long term relationships with local land managers. Trail groups…not mountain bike clubs. Celebrate our common love. Most trails are multi use. Most people do more than one thing.
- Train local advocates in planning, design, and trail construction to support local projects. The emphasis should be on effective working groups that are professional and competent in relationship, communication and creating great experiences. Forget the rest. Quality not quantity.
- Create regional networks of trail professionals that are accountable and supportive of trail efforts.
Thanks for your consideration! Feel free to check out our FB pages.
Forest Trails Alliance
PS, ask yourself some of these questions of your local trails….
Does the trail gently roll up and down to shed water or does it have nicks or waterbars struck across the alignment for drains?
Does the alignment work for users in motion with cambered bench to gently guide users or just out sloped?
Was their effort to locate all the unique and spectacular features like waterfalls, huge trees, vistas or swimming spots and include them in an alignment?
Does the alignment meander with gradual ups and downs throughout the overall alignment or is it driven with a consistent pitch to the destination?
Are there benches, crafted bridges, interpretive signs, carved signs, challenge areas or other aspects developed to engage people?
But most importantly, how many of the community were involved and what have you done to develop the stakeholders who will help maintain this infrastructure?
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1663"] Project X Napa Crew[/caption]January 3, 2017 at 8:57 am #203840
The picture above reflects the awesome potential when you craft trails from a community perspective. Pride, great experiences, friendships, contributions, adventure and so much more. Feel free to apply for apprenticeship or tech positions on our listings on Indeed.com. We have three years of regional trail contracts we will be serving. Get involved!January 4, 2017 at 11:45 am #203957
Why is that trail so wide?January 6, 2017 at 3:56 pm #204209
How does one go about gaining permission to implement a new trail? Where I live in California most of the MTB “trails” are fire roads. We are mostly forbidden from riding anything remotely resembling a trail with precious few exceptions. I have always been interested in learning about the process to introduce new trails.January 6, 2017 at 6:40 pm #204218
Thanks for sharing this. It looks you guys have a great thing going and do good work. We really need something like this in the east. I live in Pennsylvania and there’s a lot of potentially great single track that is closed to biking. PA has 121 state parks and I believe less than 25 allow mountain biking. What’s strange is many of these trails allow horseback riding in addition to hiking but not biking. To get new trails we need a miracle just to start a conversation on the subject. We really need some inspiration to give more to our trails.January 11, 2017 at 10:28 am #204622
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