Spoke Talk: The mud, the blood and the beer
August 16, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Actually, there was no blood. But there was definitely mud and beer afterward for Routt County Riders volunteers July 13 when the International Mountain Bicycling Association trail care crew was here to teach a morning class about sustainable trail building followed by "on the ground" direction in an afternoon work session.
The trail care crew is two people, Jesse and Lori. After screening applicants, the IMBA selects couples who are in a long-term, committed relationship and who are willing to spend two years visiting IMBA chapters in the U.S. educating and demonstrating the techniques used to build and maintain sustainable multiuse trails. They are not paid, but they are totally supported: Subaru provides a new Outback wagon with IMBA graphics and also pays for all of their travel, food and lodging expenses. Trek provides mountain bikes. The North Face provides work clothes, play clothes and gear. And Yakima provides racks and carriers so they can carry all of the above with them.
During the classroom session, Jesse and Lori discussed the economic and social importance of trails in a community before they actually got into talking about planning, designing, building and maintaining trails. Planning is the single most important element of the whole process. Design is the phase that ensures a new trail will integrate into the landscape, avoid conflict among users and be sustainable through time. The discussion of construction techniques was perfectly tied to the work we would do in the afternoon.
After the classroom session, we loaded into vans courtesy of the Winter Sports Club and headed up Blackmer Drive until the vans could proceed no farther. There, we unloaded tools, had a thorough safety discussion and organized into crews. (We were in good hands: All the crew leaders are first aid and CPR certified, and Jesse is a former Marine combat medic). From that point, we hiked about 2 miles up to the worksite and got busy. The new trail had been flagged according to the approved design, so we started clearing the organic cover and topsoil, cutting the tread surface into the slope and shaping the trail. We built several really nice bermed climbing turns including drainage "knicks" at the entrance and exit of the turn. It was great to see the techniques we talked about in the morning actually being executed. During a couple of hours of hard work, 20 volunteers (a local rancher, medical provider, retirees, young athletes, coaches, moms and dads, and two 20-somethings) created a beautiful 18- to 24-inch wide trail that really looked like it belonged there. All other evidence of our presence was removed and the trail looked like it had been there forever.
Just as we were finishing, the lightning and rain started. We got soaked to the skin as we hiked out to the vehicles, but the customary beer after a trail work session tasted really good.
Paul Matheny serves on the Routt County Riders board of directors. He can be reached at email@example.com.