This post is going to be a really long one on what would seem like a simple topic – you want to build some trail? Sure, grab a shovel and get cracking, right? As I’ll highlight below in this long-winded two-part update, it was never that simple and today, there is far more to it than ever before. That said, today – if we do things the right way, we are building trails that can last generations with less maintenance than before, stand legally in the eyes of government, and we can leave a permanent mark on our communities which is a pretty humbling thought. We all want to leave some kind of legacy, right? Below I’ll lay out how anyone can do just that. But there is a process.
Generally every few weeks or so we get some form of request to be a trailbuilder. These requests come in a variety of ways. Some via our email (email@example.com), some via our partners in the community (Local Bike Shops, etc), others via Facebook page and other social media (@fvmba) and finally, (our least favorite method) sometimes we uncover new building on a trail somewhere that tells us someone new wants to be a trailbuilder. It’s not ‘we’ as in the FVMBA has tabs on all the trails out there and know when someone builds something new. We’re not nearly as big-brother as some would have you believe.
We generally hear from one of our affiliated volunteer trailbuilders in a given riding zone about some new stunt/berm/gap or ‘fix’ that has been added haphazardly to a trail in the name of making it ‘better’ for the ‘new builder’ on that trail. This is not a new issue – I love crawling into the Wayback machine from time to time and this post reminded me that this issue is as old as rock gardens.
For example, one that came in recently (and prompted this post) was from the gang (Ryan & Dean) at the Woodlot. Someone had ‘fixed’ a log rollover on Bloggy style and added a jump.
In doing so, they did more damage than good – the construction was already falling apart when our trail reps removed it and restored the trail to what was there before. It’s not that trails shouldn’t change, nor that adding a jump to a trail is bad. The issue in this case was that it was done poorly, without consultation or consent, and we at FVMBA are left holding the bag in times like these. We are coming close to having Partnership Agreements with RSTBC (the land manager for Crown Land) for trails at Vedder, Sumas, Bear & Red, and at the Woodlot. We are having similar conversations & initiatives with other land managers in other riding areas too (Cities, Regional Districts, BC Parks, Private landowners), but 80%+ of the trails we oversee are on Crown Land. With that level of responsibility comes the need to ensure things are at a bare minimum safe.
And safe doesn’t mean easy – by no means are easy trails safe. ‘Safe’ to the land manager generally means no surprises. Difficult trails are rated and signed as such, anything that is not within the standard flavor of the trail is signed accordingly, etc. But a new jump added to an existing trail using rotten wood that was ready to blow apart with the next rider on a dry day was not safe. It was also done without consent as noted above and that part is important as I’ll talk about more in part II. So, it was removed. I use this as an example of some of the things we deal with as an organization on a weekly basis in all the areas we are responsible for.
I’ll use myself as an example of how one became a trailbuilder in days gone by. I started digging by coming out to a NSMBA trail day on Corkscrew or Pangor…it was about 15 years ago so forgive me if I get the details wrong. I was inspired to do so as I rode CBC and loved it and realized that trails don’t build themselves. I was also looking for a selfish outlet for my philanthropic streak, so building trail seemed to scratch that itch. Anyway, I was one of many vollies on a big dig-day and I still have fond memories of the one corner where 4 of us spent 4 hours on that day. We did one corner in 4 hours! As I’ve come to learn over the years, that is the amount of time needed to build quality trail that lasts. As I was thinking about this post and remembering all my trail building milestones, my thoughts drifted to the people that led those charges, how important a role they played and the lessons I learned from them. On that day, Andrew Major was a guy that got my attention as he was putting a bunch of newbs like me to good use. It was an impressive feat.
From there, I was riding at SFU a lot (lived on the side of it while going to BCIT) and I attended the Burnaby MTB Association (BMBA) AGM to see what that was about. In that meeting they were giving out free hats to those that signed up for the board. I’m a sucker for hats, so started my career in advocacy. Andrew was a player at that table too, but Judy Garren comes to mind when I think about the BMBA. She was one of the OG ladies of MTB in my world and I learned a ton about what advocacy means from her and the crew @ BMBA. We as a club fixed up Nicole’s and built the new (at that time) Gear Jammer in partnership with the City of Burnaby which was full of its own inherent challenges. I always tell the story about the ½” spacer we had to use to set the space between rungs on woodwork. This was to ensure the bridges were compliant with Burnaby’s standards and compatible with four-legged friends. Another important lesson there about building inclusively.
After a couple years there, I had moved to Coquitlam and started riding Eagle Mountain regularly. I was on the Fatboys forums (remember internet forums for trail stuff!) and found out about a trail day on Randy’s. I went and met my future trail building buddy Daryl (philly) and our mentor while on Eagle – Jon Keener. Jon took us aside that day (or another day thereafter) and told us that Manhandler could use some love. So, we gave it a couple years of love the best we knew how at that time. We built some stuff that was awesome, some stuff that was OK, and some stuff that sucked bad. Built well – between Daryl and I we knew how to build decent structure, but we were out to lunch on the flow factor. Dorp-to-Falt was our specialty… Anyway, we brought Jon up any time we got into trouble for advice and feedback. He was our journeyman (along with a few others) as we apprenticed in the trade of trail work. I learned there to be humble as I knew very little about trail work even though I thought I knew it all…
While living in Coquitlam, I was also on the forums for the nut-jobs out in the Fraser Valley and got wind of a trail day on Time-Out on Sumas. There, we were led by Steve Rosset and Co. to do some real good work while having a real good time. From Steve I learned the art of a good trail day ; that day needs to be fun and rewarding and you can get a group of volunteers to work their a$$e$ off – all for a free lunch!
I moved to Mission in 2010 and started being more active on the forums out this way. I offered to be a trail whipping boy for anyone who wanted one and lo and behold, Tom Mackesy (who will be leaving our region, much to the detriment of the horrible trails on Red) invited me to be a rock b!@#% for him on Momentum. Him and I moved rocks for 4 hours straight with Sacha barking at me the entire time. That rock work is still there going strong – 7 years later. Another reminder that 4 hours in a corner can last a lifetime.
Today, I am a serial maintainer and president of the trail association. I’ve built sections of trail and maintained a ton, but still don’t have a trail that I can call my own. I plan to get there…one day. My kids need to leave the house first and I need someone to fill my shoes in a couple years. ? In the meantime, I’m trying to use my path to today to illustrate that it can take years and sometimes decades to become proficient as a trailbuilder. And I still learn something every time that I build with someone else. I am only confident today that I can build good, quality trail and teach others to do the same from the experience the past has offered me.
The point I really want to get across in telling my journey is that if you want to build trail, the best way is to start by coming out to a trail day and learning the ropes. No matter your age or experience, you’ll meet some people, learn some tricks and with any luck, get the building bug. The cool thing about the building bug is it is way cheaper than the riding bug! As I’ll outline in part II of this post, your trail association can pay to support your building habit. Odds are you’re not a pro rider (or maybe you are) but it is a tough grind to get someone to pay for your riding habit. Want to be a supported builder? Check back to learn more.
Stay tuned – Rocky B.