One of the most important things that NEMBA chapters do is working with land managers to make our trails better. It’s critically important to have good relations with the people and agencies that manage the land we recreate on. Federal land, State land, municipal land, or conservation areas it doesn’t matter. Nothing positive will get done without land manager approval.
Here are a few tips on working with Land Managers.
The best way to get things going is to introduce yourself to the land manager. Be sure to mention that you’re part of NEMBA and a member of NEMBA’s local chapter. It good for the chapter to designate a single point person for each of the parks in its territory so that communication is streamlined and so the land manager know who to contact if any issues arise. If the area has a “friends group”, join and get involved.
Keep in mind that land managers are frequently over-worked and understaffed, so it is important for the chapter to offer solutions and volunteer resources in a way that doesn’t increase the management burden of the local staff. It’s not uncommon for land managers to think “I’d get a lot done if it wasn’t for all these volunteers!”
NEMBA’ success at working with land managers is that we offer a turnkey solution to some of their problems. Our trail building and maintenance programs have a long track record of success. Our crew leaders are trained to work and manage unskilled volunteers to execute quality projects without overburdening park staff.
Many land managers have their personal goals for the park and others may have more formal resource management plans that provide a roadmap of future projects for the park.
We recommend opening a dialogue with land managers to see what their goals and aspirations are for the park and the trails. While we may want to create some gnarly singletrack in the back recesses of the park, the park supervisor may be more interested in maintain and rehabilitating some easier trails. By focusing on this first, goodwill and confidence will be developed that will make it easier for the chapter to pursue other initiatives.
Remember: you’re all working for a common goal. Making things better. You just need to get on the same page.
Build a good working relationship over time
Much of our advocacy is based upon building personal and professional relationships with land managers and the local, state and federal agencies that may oversee local parks.
Building these relationships take time and energy, so don’t expect things to happen all at once. Land managers are always being pulled in multiple directions and they only have so much time to get anything done. Doing something new can sometimes be a leap. Ask for permission to do something easy, to start. When you’ve achieved a certain amount of trust, or to build that trust, ask to do something small. Remove deadfalls, improve drainage, and brush back an overgrown trail.
As time passes, propose a larger project such as rehabilitating or re-routing a damaged trail or building a new trail, or making a map of the area’s trails. If you execute a large project of significance, such as a boardwalk, new trail or major clean-up event, don’t forget to publicize this in a way that shed favorable light on the land manager.
NEMBA is a solutions-oriented organization. When working with land managers, we always try to provide solutions to problems and issues the park may be facing. Land managers will be much more willing to work with those who have a clear vision about to overcome problems, rather than just point them out.
There are many ways that mountain bikers can be an asset and a positive resource to a local park. Because we cover much more ground than most other trail users, we’re especially good at being the “eyes and ears” of the park. We can report blowdowns (and offer to remove them) as well as deteriorating trail conditions, or teenage partying, illegal dumping, arson and a host of issues that the manager might not be able to see. Park staff rarely has the resources to monitor their entire trail systems.
Assisting with User Conflicts and MTB Issues
Each park has different issues and constituencies of users. At many parks the trail community gets along, and people treat each other with respect and acceptance. But in some parks there is a culture of divisiveness and hostility. It’s NEMBA’s goal to help build a positive trail community that can harnessed to improve the park. In part this stems from rider education.
We understand that the mountain bike community is extremely diverse. Most aren’t NEMBA members, many ride alone or have their small circle of riding friends, and in general, mountain bikers are an independent lot who are sometimes hard to galvanize. However, we also need to recognize that in the eyes of land managers we’re a single user group -- we’re mountain bikers.
NEMBA has a responsibility to represent all riders and to assist land managers to interface with the mountain bike community (no matter how diverse it really is).
We are in a good position to get the word out and help educate the riding community about issues important to the land manager. By talking with riders and by using social media, we can highlight the importance of being respectful of other trail users. The trail riding would be in a much better place if we all just said “hi” to each others and shared our common appreciation for being out on the trail.
There are also some serious issues for land managers: illegal trail construction, riding unauthorized trails, stava-A-holes, trail degradation due to trail braiding or bad cycling technique, riding when the trails are soft and muddy, etc. In each of these cases, NEMBA needs to take the high road and help explain what it’s important to be a responsible user group. All of these issues threaten the land manager’s perception of mountain biking and threaten our access.
Being a Funding Resource
Our parks are frequently cash strapped don’t have the financial resources for many projects. We recommend that NEMBA chapters allocate a budget for each of their major parks. The budget could be for trail materials, such a boardwalks, or simply as a donation that stays with the park itself. We need to keep in mind that NEMBA is a not-for-profit and that we should be spending our money to further our mission.
Another way to provide cash funding for parks is by putting on a special event at the park and have all monies generated go to the park itself or earmarked for projects at the park. Putting on a Kona Bicycles MTB Adventure Ride is a good way to help make this happen.