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  Trail Care Crew Tip

From Fantasy To Reality: The First Steps In Building A New Trail

Jan and Mike Riter, Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew

Call it a mountain biker's fantasy. Sometimes it develops when we're driving. Or maybe it comes while we're flying commercially, our noses pressed against the window studying the ground below. Or perhaps we're simply on foot or pedaling along a road, bound for the trail.

Our thought pattern is always the same. We see a beautiful piece of land and think, "this is the perfect spot for a mountain bike trail." We imagine ourselves riding a glorious, new singletrack that flows perfectly across its expanse. We're the trail designer, the chief of construction, the first rider, the...

In reality most of us never have the luxury of designing and building a trail from start to finish. But let's indulge ourselves and imagine we get the opportunity. Let's talk about the basic considerations.

First, there's the question of ownership. Before you set a foot on property -- let alone begin working on it -- you must determine who owns or manages the land.

Establishing a personal, working relationship with that landowner or manager is essential. Having a complete vision and plan for your trail project is also important: Rough ideas and suggestions are rarely enough to secure a go-ahead.

If your plan involves building and maintaining a new trail system, it's important that your project be tied to a local, established bicycle club or other respected volunteer organization. Being able to demonstrate that your project can draw on an abundant labor pool for construction and on-going maintenance is a plus. If the work seems as if it's going to fall on the shoulders of one or two individuals, the credibility of the project will suffer and approval may never come.

Constructing an actual trail is never as easy as that first fantasy picture. Keep in mind that you are about to put an unnatural structure -- a trail -- in a natural setting.

Try to work with Mother Nature, not against her. Flowing water is the most powerful force in trail erosion. Try to route the trail along the contours of a hillside instead straight up and down the fall line. Fall-line construction encourages water to flow down the hill with high velocity, taking dirt and other natural material with it. Putting the trailbed along the hill contours encourages water to flow slowly across the trail in sheets.

The more you know about a proposed trail site the better. Hike the area as many times as possible before placing that first surveying flag. The more familiar you are with a piece of land the better you'll be able to fully utilize natural features to make the trail interesting and aesthetically pleasing.

These first two steps -- securing permission to develop trails and learning the lay of the land -- can be time consuming. But they're a crucial investment that will pay off as a trail that is more enjoyable and more durable, too.

IMBA is available to provide trail design, construction and maintenance assistance. Our two Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crews will visit almost every U.S. state. IMBA Trail Coordinator Kurt Loheit will lead several trailbuilding workshops from coast to coast. We also offer for $25 a manual on trailwork for mountain biking. Contact our main office for more information.

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