Dave Packie weighs in with his seconed installment of $.02.
| Above: A Sustainable Trail Works builder works on Hardy Haul, Stowe, Vermont |
What do we want out of our professionally constructed trail networks these days? If you pay attention to the conversation, you hear words like sustainability, flow, accessibility, and it’s hard to argue that these things are not desired characteristics. In fact, they are the primary objectives of the professional crews that are working to expand our legal riding opportunities in and around Vermont. If you ride the improved trails, or newly constructed, machine-built stuff, it’s hard to argue that leaps and bounds have not been made in providing a riding experience that is accessible to many skill levels, with less impact once construction is complete, and all but gift wraps that fun, hooked up, pump-and-jump flow. At $3/5 a foot, and up, at a rate of up to 1000 feet per day or more once the prep work is done, STW and Sinuosity can both deliver the goods. So….that’s $15,000 to $30,000 per mile. Um. OK? So how do we make trail cheaper?
You could supplement paid labor, but volunteers haven’t produced in great enough numbers to greatly impact the bottom line of any building projects I’ve seen around here. It’s reasonable to expect that volunteers can handle up-keep, but it is the rare crew of volunteers that is willing to show up consistently to get thrashed on trail crew on their day off from their regular job, and turn out pro work. Those of you that do turn out professional level work as volunteers rock, and you know who you are.
| Below: Sinuosity owner Brooke Scatchard fine tunes one of Vermont’s newest trail networks in Northfield |
You could create more primitive trails but you sacrifice accessibility, and sustainability. Once a “Rake-and-Ride” trail sees a certain level of use, roots and ledge become exposed. Less skilled riders will find the challenging, rooty and rocky trail intimidating and will go to some extraordinary lengths to avoid these features. Charlie’s trail, for example is 20 feet wide in places where the original trail has been widened by poor line choice. While a primitive, narrow, technical single track may be the most enjoyable trail for some of us for reasons of aesthetics, challenge, and back country feel, they only endure when protected by secrecy, remoteness, or some death-march climbing and beginners will not have a fun time.
For the public trails that are only going to see increased traffic down the road, we are certainly not wasting any money on overbuilt trail, and the scale of some of the infrastructure and the degree to which the tread is armored could even still increase and not be considered excessive. Trail builders have been accused of taking the challenge out of mountain biking with the New School, excavated trail model. Yet, even small challenges left in the trail still cause people to deviate from the well prepared riding surface. I’m not sure when the expectation of trail riding changed from an experience of challenge, where it was expected a rider would encounter sections they found unridable, or difficult to ride, to one of 100 percent ride-ability for all skill levels with avoidance of any object in the trail the preferred line. Regardless of when it happened, that is the new expectation. Building to this new level of “skill” takes more time in finish work, and therefore costs more money. It’d be cool if beginner riders would accept the fact that they are going to have to walk sections, or go back a few times to make a climb or navigate technical trail section. It would be cool if people would make conscious line choices while riding mountain bikes to stay on trail, choose most challenging lines and help keep stuff tight, but that is not our new reality and so to retain the single track asthetic, pains must be taken to provide an extremely buff, manicured, easy rolling, manufactured trail with little to no potential for technical challenge for the least skilled bike handlers. I remember when getting over logs was a specific skill in Mountain biking, now, not so much.
| Above: More engineered flow in Northfield |
It is given that all legal trail will be built to the new standards of finish, accessibility, sustainability, and easy flow. As long as this is the desired direction for public trail development, the sticker price is what it is. Trail builders work extremely hard to provide this experience. It has been my experience that people who think trail costs too much have never done any of the work involved in producing these trails. After a week of rock work, or wheel barrowing gravel, or walking behind the excavator cutting roots, cleaning up back slope, and raking out the perfect tread, their perception of value would certainly be changed. Things you can do to affect the bill would be to volunteer. Help you local club raise money, or show up to help a trail crew and be prepared to work, doing what you are instructed to do, even if it isn’t glamorous, and continue to show up until you have a firm grasp of the process from start to finish. After many hours you will be able to identify and undertake small projects help maintain the finished product for years to come. Raising the funds to keep our dedicated trail builders gainfully employed is the real challenge. The more trained and motivated the volunteer workers become, the farther each dollar can go. Be aware of your impact with good line choices and be cognizant of conditions. When you shouldn’t be riding, go spend a bunch of hours cutting roots for Brooke or Hardy. You will gain new respect for the intensity of trail work, lessen your impact on sensitive trails, stretch the budget, and gain a sense of ownership over your trails, deepening your connection and enriching your riding experience.