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What’s the trail you tend to ride most often because you love it—because it’s your favorite local trail by far? You’ll drive a little extra distance when you have the time to get to that trail because of your deep affection. Every time your riding buddies ask what trail they should go ride, the name of that trail is always the first one that comes to mind. Whatever your reasons for loving that trail—the flow, the technical challenges, the climbs, the beauty—you find yourself riding that trail more than any other.
But what can you do to make your trail better? Check out this list of ideas and determine to do as many of them as you’re able to accomplish.
1. Volunteer for Trail Work
Guess what? Every trail needs regular love and care to stay awesome, and that usually means hard work put in by volunteers. Most trails—particularly trails in North Texas—are maintained by volunteer clubs and organizations who appoint local trail stewards to oversee and maintain trails in their area. Those trail stewards can’t maintain several miles of trail alone, and are very dependent upon assistant stewards and other volunteers who’ll show up regularly to help bust ruts, fill crack and holes, prune face slappers, and repair damage and erosion.
Get to know your favorite trail’s steward and ask them how you can help with trail maintenance. Many trail stewards schedule regular work days, and you’ll find this is often the best time to show up. There’s strength in numbers, and you’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish when a dozen or more volunteers show up at once and give the trail some TLC for a few hours. Will you have to give up a morning of riding? Yes, but it’s worth it. The gratification of riding a section of trail you helped maintain is a pretty cool. You’ll probably feel faster than ever before as you rip though a section of your own handiwork.
Beyond regular work days, ask the trail steward if there are ways you can perform trail maintenance on your own time. Riders are often encouraged to periodically ride the trail with a pair of compact loppers in their hydration pack and trim face slappers as they go along. You might also consider carrying a pocket chainsaw to help clear downed trees—just make sure you know the trail well enough to know the difference between a purposefully-placed technical trail feature and a fallen tree.
Some stewards may allow you to do more serious maintenance without direct supervision, such as filling holes and cracks, repairing berms, or caring for technical trail features. Whatever you do, don’t ever dumb down the trail by removing roots, rocks, or other natural obstacles. You’re not doing anyone any favors by making the trail easier to ride, but rather you’re destroying an opportunity for riders to progress in their skills. On top of all this, removing roots can kill the trees, while removing either roots or rocks can speed erosion. If you feel the need to dumb down a trail, you’re participating in the wrong hobby.
2. Join Your Local Club
As mentioned above, most trails are built and/or maintained by local off-road cycling clubs. For example, in the greater Dallas area, DORBA (Dallas Off-Road Bicycling Association) has been granted the responsibility for advocating and maintaining several trails across more than four counties, totaling several hundred miles. Membership in the club is only $35 per year for and individual or $55 for a family. All of DORBA’s board members are volunteers, so 100% of membership dues go back toward supporting local trails in one way or another—either through purchasing gas, tools, and equipment to maintain those trails, paying for events and races that increase community awareness of the trails, or even simply feeding volunteers who show up for work days.
In addition to the monetary impact your membership might have on your favorite trail, the truth here again is sheer strength in numbers. When your local club representatives go and speak to local city councils, land owners and managers, or business executives, the membership size can make a favorable impression. Think about it. If your club’s trail advocacy director stands before a city council and tells them there are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of members who might ride a bike trail in their city, it makes that council sit up and pay attention. Why? Because potential trail riders means potential spenders at local restaurants, gas stations, and other establishments. Spending means sales tax revenue. A council is much more likely to support a trail if they can see how it will benefit their budget’s bottom line.
A large club can also shake the trees a bit better for corporate sponsors. Local bike shops often support local riding clubs, and the bigger the club the bigger their potential support. Why? Again, it’s about their bottom line. If they can get their name in front of hundreds or thousands of bike club members in a positive way—if they can build and maintain a positive reputation with those club members—it means those clubs members are more likely to purchase a gear or a new bike at that shop. It’s really a win-win relationship for both the club and the bike shop.
3. Donate Money, Tools, or Other Needs
So you’ve done the right thing and joined your local club, but you just can’t seem to work out the time in your schedule to attend a regular work day. Hey, it happens. We know you’ll go when you can, but since it’s not in the cards at the moment why not give a little extra money to help the stewards keep your favorite trail nice and fresh. Rather than simply ordering a new McLeod from Amazon—though it’s a great trail maintenance tool—find out what the stewards really need. It could be that their greatest current need is new wood to repair a janky boardwalk or new stain for the information kiosk.
4. Report Issues to the Trail Steward
How many times have you ridden a trail and come across an issue that needs to be addressed. It could be something as minor as a hole starting to develop or a section in need of a good trim, or it might be a major problem such as a large fallen tree or outright vandalism. When you see these issues, don’t just ride on by and assume someone will take care of them, take the time to report the issue.
The best practice for reporting an issue is to snap a picture of the problem with your cell phone and post it on the trail’s Facebook page along with the problem’s location. Grab the GPS coordinates if possible, or simply make sure you can describe the location as accurately as possible in your report. For major issues, make your report right there on the spot if you can to make sure you don’t forget once you get back to your car. If your trail doesn’t have a Facebook page, find out how to report issues to the trail steward and make your report as soon as possible.
5. Be a Regular Trail Facebook Page Commenter
As mentioned above, many trails have their own dedicated Facebook page in which to share trail statuses and build community. If you haven’t already, join your favorite trail’s page and get involved in discussions. In the DORBA system, most of the trail have their own page, and some of them are very active. Not only do the members discuss trail conditions, but they share information about group rides, bike maintenance, riding advice, photo sharing, and much more.
If your favorite trail doesn’t have a Facebook page, then start one! Talk to the trail steward first and see if they want to be an admin on the page. If they do, volunteer to get it set up for them and then turn over the keys to the page. If they’re not in favor of being an admin, there’s nothing stopping you from starting one up yourself. Just be respectful, supportive, informative, and positive.
6. Ride Your Favorite Trail Often
I doubt you need to be encouraged to ride your favorite trail more often, but consider the impact your regular presence can have at the trail. Make yourself an unofficial ambassador for the trail and greet other riders when you see them at the trailhead or along your ride. Be courteous as always and see if they need any help, but also offer to trail guide folks around if you discover they’re new to the trail.
This means the more often you ride the trail, the more familiar you will be with all the technical trail features, bypasses, best lines, and alternate lines. Offer to help newer riders ride within their skill set by offering advice based on your intimate knowledge of the trail. Offer to help riders session areas where they’re struggling or simply want to get better.
And remember that Facebook page? As a trail ambassador, you should post regularly when you’re going to head out to the trail and invite others to join you. Sure, we understand that sometimes you want to ride by yourself, but be open to leading or organizing impromptu group rides. You’ll have a ton of fun showing off your favorite trail.
7. Adopt Your Favorite Trail’s MTB Project and Trailforks Listings
As a regular rider, you’re in a fantastic position to help maintain the accuracy of your favorite trail’s listings on MTB Project and Trailforks. Both of these sites are fantastic resources for riders who are scouting new trail to ride, but since they’re crowdsourced the information can sometimes be inaccurate. Learn how to format and upload your GPS data to make sure the trail maps are accurate—especially if there have been recent extensions or reroutes to the trail.
You can also freshen up the trail descriptions, add new or better images of the trailhead and trail, and provide regular updates about trail conditions after each ride. If you use Strava, you can even connect your account to Trailforks and it will record your rides there as well. You can add trail condition reports to your uploaded ride.
8. Educate Fellow Riders
Along with your newfound role as trail ambassador comes an additional responsibility—that of educating your fellow riders. You can’t control other riders’ actions, but you can do your part to inform them about bike safety and trail etiquette. Encourage other riders to always wear a helmet. Teach them how they should act when riding the trail—such as move off the trail when stopped, and announce yourself if you need to pass. Pour all the things you’ve learned over the years into less experienced riders. It will make the experience more pleasurable for everyone.
Then there’s the biggie. Teach other riders that it’s never ok to dumb down the trail. Again, teach them how to ride over a tough obstacle or encourage them to just walk their bike until they build their skills. Just make sure you emphasize they should never under any circumstances attempt to remove a feature from the trail. If they don’t know the difference between removing a fallen tree and digging up a rock, take the time to educate them.
9. Volunteer at Local Events, Races, and Group Rides
We come back to the theme of volunteering some of your time. If you really want to increase awareness of your favorite trail try to show up and help at events held there. We encourage you to race the trail when you can, but if you’re not racing and you’ve got the time, why not volunteer to help? It’s not just races you could help out at. DORBA holds other events such as drop-in rides, and they often need people to lead group rides, flip burgers, or help new members sign up.
If your club isn’t doing events like that, why don’t you contact the board and see if you can organize one at your favorite trail. Chances are, if you’ll put in a good bulk of the work, they might jump at the chance.
10. Shop Local
Finally, make every effort to shop locally. As mentioned above, many bike shops give back to the cycling community through donations to local cycling clubs. So, every time you choose to shop locally rather than grabbing a better deal online, a small portion of your purchase ends helping the trail you love. We won’t get into the debate of whether you should only shop at small mom-and-pop stores or a large retail giants. Both have their place, and both often give back to the trails in their own way and in their own measure. (For instance, REI has been known to give yearly grants totaling several thousand dollars for projects at local trails in the Dallas/Ft Worth area.)
Some shops not only give back monetarily, but some even offer discounts or dividends to local club members. There are shops in the DORBA area that will throw in a free club membership when you purchase a bike worth $1,000 or more. A handful of these shops even organize and lead weekly group rides at local trails. Bike shop owners and managers are often some of the best trail advocates around. It’s only right to help support them as they help support the trails we love.
Did We Miss Anything?
Can you think of other ways to help your favorite local trail? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear your ideas!
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!