With back-to-back Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hitting the US mainland, the amount of destruction on the ground is difficult to comprehend. Millions are still without power in Florida, while residents in Texas are beginning the difficult task of repairing flood damage to homes and businesses. The threat to human health and safety is still very real, making efficient recovery efforts all the more critical.
In the days immediately following Hurricane Harvey, members of the Greater Houston Off Road Bicycle Association (GHORBA) focused on helping their members out. The group used social media to organize volunteer parties to clean and gut members’ homes. At last check, GHORBA members had helped more than 30 households, spending about 500 volunteer hours per house to get the job done!
The breadth of the hurricane destruction may seem overwhelming, but mountain bikers in particular can find a connection through the trail resources we all share. Many of the trails in Texas and Florida are located in low-lying areas which were particularly hard-hit, destroying former places of escape from the everyday stress of life for thousands of riders.
Hurricane Harvey dumped between 6 and 10 trillion gallons of water on southeast Texas, swelling bayous and rivers to unprecedented levels. If you caught our Five2Ride in Houston article earlier this summer, you know that popular trails like Cypress Creek and the Brazos River trails are located, well, along creeks and rivers. Predictably, those trail systems were significantly impacted by the flooding.
The GHORBA website shows that only 3 out of 13 area trails are “all clear” more than 20 days after Harvey made landfall. Eight of the 13 are still closed due to “major issues.” Understandably, getting the trails re-opened, while seemingly important to many mountain bikers, takes a backseat to more pressing health and safety issues.
“The reality is that we have been dedicated to helping people clear their homes from flood damage. The extent of the damage is not imaginable unless you see it first hand. MTB and trails are a second priority for most of us,” says Bill Collier, President of GHORBA.
Some club members have been out to the trails to assess damage, though it’s still too early to begin recovery efforts. GHORBA Trail Steward Jason Wipf says, “Trails along the Brazos River were covered in [a] layer of mud several inches thick, and many of our trail features either floated away or have been eroded. We are still waiting for the trails to fully dry before rebuilding efforts begin. We hope trail rebuilding will begin in 2-3 weeks.”
In the meantime, GHORBA is soliciting Hurricane Harvey Relief donations on their website. Local riders can also get involved by volunteering to help clear and rebuild trails once things dry out.
Trees Blocking Trails
In Florida, where the winds from Hurricane Irma lashed the entire state from south to north, much of the trail damage appears to have come from fallen trees. In some cases, fallen trees are making it impossible to even access popular trailheads. The Santos trail system outside Ocala, FL has hundreds of trees down on the trails and the roadways surrounding the area.
The Ocala Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) is organizing trail work sessions this weekend, September 16 and 17, to clear trees and restore access to the more than 60 miles of trails in the area.
Trail Bridges and Wooden Features Destroyed
The mountain bike trails at Alafia River State Park are known for their bridges, connecting old phosphate mine tailings while avoiding alligator-filled swamps. Based on photos from the Alafia Trail Crew and SWAMP club, many of the bridges are underwater and potentially damaged and/or displaced.
Wooden trail features at the New Territory trails in Texas were damaged or destroyed as well. While trails may dry out on their own over time, wooden bridges and trail features will need to be rebuilt, which costs both volunteer hours and good old fashioned cash.
How You Can Help
Many of us use mountain biking as a way to relieve stress in our lives, which makes the trail damage in Texas and Florida all the more cruel. At a time when many residents could use the stress relief a mountain bike ride may bring, they’re unable to do so.
With all of the destruction from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, mountain bike trails are low on the list of official recovery priorities. But for those who are looking for a unique opportunity to help others in need, giving financially or supporting upcoming trail work days will certainly be appreciated by our fellow mountain bikers.
Use the links below to support local mountain bike clubs affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma:
Were your local trails damaged by recent storms? Share photos and post information about upcoming work days here.