California. The Golden State. The Left Coast. Progressive. Liberal. Most populous state in the nation, the third largest land area only after behemoths Alaska and Texas. The birthplace of mountain biking. Man, with stats like that, the trails must be off the hook! A double black diamond DH for you! A frolicking, flowy XC for you! Trails for everyone, everywhere.
Or not. Though 42% of the state’s nearly 100 million acres are public lands owned by the state or federal government (California State Parks, US Forest Service, National Parks, etc.), many mountain bikers in California find themselves wanting. Bike bans like the ones on Mt. Tamalpais, where progenitors of the sport clunked their way down Repack in the 1970s, began to spread and with them, groups of civic-minded folks determined to stop such bans. These groups formed coalitions, attended public meetings ,and began influencing policy. Or at least, they are trying to.
Fast forward to 2018. The annual California Trails and Greenways Conference, sponsored by California State Parks is taking place in Sonoma County, a handful of miles as the crow flies from the slopes of Mt. Tam. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has just lost their California representative. This fact ripples and whirls like a fog around the halls, through the meeting rooms named Redwood, Bodega and Golden Gate. And lots of heavy hitters in the world of mountain bike advocacy are here at this conference, State Parks being a common, unifying thread through the work of clubs from San Diego to Eureka, from the Mexican to the Oregonian border.
In light of this news, they do what any self-respecting group of world-wise mountain bikers and mountain bike advocates would do. They go to the bar. Bear Republic Brewing happened to be mere steps away, and that is where 60 folks from myriad organizations up and down the state discussed their plight, hoisted a pint (or two) and formed what would soon become the California Mountain Biking Coalition (CAMTB). (Yes, the author is aware that “CAMTB” is not the acronym for California Mountain Biking Coalition. That would be CMBC. Maybe they had too much beer?) Their mission “grew out of the recognized need for a state-wide voice for mountain bikers in California.”
“The loss of our excellent state rep at IMBA really drove home our need for statewide collaboration, a unified voice around legislation in Sacramento, plus, the fantastic growth of high-school mountain biking highlighted the need for more and better trails” said Vernon Huffman, CAMTB Board Member and president of Access 4 Bikes in Marin County on a Zoom call in December.
When I asked his fellow board member Susie Murphy, Executive Director of the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, about the organization’s greatest success to date, she focused on CAMTB’s desire to “build a foundation of knowledge and to develop key relationships at State Parks and elsewhere.” Murphy noted with pride that over 30 organizations have signed on as CAMTB members in the mere two years the organization has been a legitimate 501c4, with actual staff, and that they are actively courting an additional 80+ groups with good reason to believe they’ll land most of them.
“A Slack channel for advocates from up and down the state to ask questions, compare notes, has been invaluable for all. How do I get non-profit status? How do I run a fundraising campaign? Start a bike park? Deal with X or Y aspect of CA State Park regulations? There’s no need for folks to reinvent the same wheel over and over.”
Steve Messer, Board President for Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA) representing riders in the Los Angeles area added that instead of viewing CAMTB as “an umbrella organization” as is often the case with statewide coalitions, “we view it as a foundation, a platform to help lift the work of individual clubs and coalitions across California.” This is a small but important shift in philosophy and tone that will likely serve the enterprise well. When I asked how Messer thought the small, plucky local orgs were being served by CAMTB, his response highlighted a keen understanding of policy, politics, and the bureaucracy that is California State Parks: “We’ve all been trying to make change, make progress from the bottom up since forever. With the power of a statewide coalition representing 140,000+ riders, we can now start to work from the top down.”
CAMTB has a part-time Executive Director, Michael Anzalone, and the board hopes to bring him up to full time status in 2022. Interviewed for the role on a ride at Tamarancho and during après beers at Split Rock Tap and Wheel in Fairfax, Mt. Tam presiding over all, Anzalone is no “bro.” His board members cite his professionalism and organizational skill, traits surely critical to lead the efforts of a state 770 miles in length with 40 million incredibly diverse residents.
“As a community we are getting better at organizing ourselves, and building fruitful, mutually beneficial partnerships. Our work with CA State Parks and IMBA hold great potential, and we want all boats to rise as a result of these efforts. This coalition is taking intentional steps to model the behavior and engagement we seek, and to garner results that benefit the larger recreation community. We can’t do that in a silo, which is why our relationships are so important” said Anzalone.
In the coming years, CAMTB will continue its broader work bringing new member organizations on board, honing its policy and advocacy chops in Sacramento, while also drilling down to focus on ensuring the California State Parks Trail Manual includes mountain bike trail building techniques, and that CAMTB is consulted regarding policies affecting its users—policies like where and when e-bikes are allowed. The organization will also engage in upcoming US Forest Service planning efforts in the Sierra and Sequoia region. A similar effort to create a statewide mountain bike advocacy organization is underway in Colorado, and likely other states as well. As they say, there’s “strength in numbers.” If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on CAMTB’s number.