We have this saying at QBP — Advocacy is in our DNA — and there’s really no better way to describe it. From the company’s inception, employees were willing to get their hands dirty in the name of creating great local trails, and the same is still true today.
Over the decades, QBP has gotten involved in a variety of trail access initiatives. Based on his experience with projects ranging in scope, access, geography, and user groups, our resident full-time advocate Gary Sjoquist has developed and distilled the company’s guiding principles into four main points.
1. Access to trails is a privilege so it must be negotiated and fought for.
Unlike road cyclists who have a legal right to ride on public roads anywhere in the U.S., mountain bikers and fat bikers don’t have the same guaranteed legal right to ride on trails. It’s not always easy but negotiating with local agencies and user groups for access is a crucial part of expanding and maintaining where cyclists can ride. Plus, negotiating with other user groups helps to ensure that everyone benefits.
For example, in 2016, the city of Crested Butte, Colorado needed to find a way to balance a growing fat bike user group with maintaining an extensive and mature nordic ski trail network. With the help of Sjoquist, the two groups were able to come to a consensus at that year’s Global Fat Bike Summit. The solution included changes such as refining grooming processes, getting more fat bikers involved in trail maintenance, encouraging riders to lower their tire pressure on nordic trails (this helps protect the trails), and allowing fat bikers to ride downhill runs at Crested Butte Mountain Resort at selected times. By playing an active role in creating a solution, fat bikers were able to gain access in a way that took everyone’s needs into account. Conversations like this are key to gaining and maintaining access.
2. Mountain bikers must respect the guidelines established by landowners.
There’s no asterisk after “Leave No Trace” clarifying that it only applies to certain user groups. Hikers, bikers, kayakers and more all need to adhere to local guidelines to ensure that access isn’t taken away and that our recreational areas stay in great shape. It only takes a few people not following rules to reverse years of mindful use.
For mountain and fat bikers, following the rules can mean taking a few days off from riding if singletrack is wet, yielding at trail crossings, or complying with minimum tire width rules during winter. In addition to preserving trails, a demonstrated history of respecting local guidelines goes a long way when it comes to negotiating for additional access on existing trails or building new ones.
3. International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) plays a critical role in advocating for cyclists on the national stage.
While QBP may not always completely agree with every specific policy or strategy employed, IMBA’s nuanced awareness of national mountain bike initiatives and its advocacy efforts cannot be underestimated in terms of importance in coordinating with other recreational user groups.
“Rather than fighting all these other national groups with more lobbyists, resources, and funds, IMBA’s advice for cyclists who want to make a difference is ‘let’s fight at the local level’ because that’s where they can create working relationships to get smart, sustainable access to trails,” explains Sjoquist.
4. It takes a combination of national, local, and regional efforts to create meaningful change.
In Sjoquist’s experience, gaining and keeping access is most successfully done by local mountain bike groups working closely with the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and state and local land managers to come up with solutions that work for all parties and user groups. The effect may be smaller than efforts on a national scale, but there are far fewer roadblocks and it is much easier to get access to the people in government who can make things happen.
Back in 2014, for example, members of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache US Forest Service Unit decided to attend that year’s Global Fat Bike Summit (which took place nearby in Ogden, UT) based on recommendations from a nearby bicycle retailer. While at the summit, the UWC USFS Supervisor Dave Whittekiend connected with Sjoquist and experienced fat biking first-hand. Later that year, the same local shop approached the USFS Unit with an idea: they’d purchase a trail groomer if the USFS unit could provide a snowmobile. Having experienced the joy of fat biking, Whittekiend agreed and that winter 11 miles of groomed fat bike trails were made available for visitors to enjoy. Currently, plans to add additional narrow fat bike singletrack in 2019 are in the works.
Of course, not every trail access effort results in success for cyclists. And, for every successful initiative, there are probably a handful of failed ones. However, each attempt also represents an opportunity to build relationships, learn from other user groups, and work towards the ultimate goal of getting more butts on bikes.
Ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work? Navigating the ins-and-outs of trail advocacy can be challenging, so we sat down with Aaron Clark, the head of IMBA’s Government Relations, to get insider tips on how to best advocate for trail access in your area. Here’s what he had to say:
- Get organized. Government employees like hearing from organized and passionate groups as opposed to a bunch of lone wolves.
- Talk to people. Go out there and meet decision makers, stakeholders, and even people who might disagree with you. It’s good to learn about others’ concerns, and chances are you’ll demystify their preconceived idea of who mountain bikers are.
- Show up to meetings often and early. If you wait to voice your group’s opinion until the proposal is already being rolled out, you’ve essentially been dropped from the group ride.
- Create a master plan. Having a master plan is critical because it helps articulate what your group’s goals are and shows that you put thought into environmental concerns, user groups, etc.
- Consider your options. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with having trails that are off-limits to mountain bikes. But, that can also help make the case for dedicated bike-only trails.