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Enjoying Your Local Trails? Consider Pitching in with Trail Work

More and more people are discovering the wonders of their backyard trail networks. And that’s great. But trails don’t fix and build themselves.

The dirt is our happy place. With miles of twisting singletrack ahead, the only thing left to do is ride it. It’s the summertime equivalent of an untracked powder stash. Here at Flylow, when we’re out pedaling our bikes on a perfect trail, that’s when our mind can wander freely. That’s when the most creative thinking happens. With snow melting in the high peaks, it’s time to dust off our mountain bikes, lace up our trail running shoes, and hit the dirt.

Being outside in fresh air right now feels like the best medicine for our physical and mental health. Trails can be a great place to feasibly practice social distancing and as long as the trailheads, parking areas, and trails themselves are open and you feel like you can recreate responsibly, then we’re all for it.

But here’s the catch: Trails don’t fix and build themselves. Most trails are cared for by volunteers, private donations, and local non-profit organizations. The groups that maintain those trails are often underfunded, understaffed, and limited on time and volunteers. And since everyone from your Uncle Bob to your 5-year-old niece is out enjoying the trails right now, trail networks will start to see the impact of that use sooner rather than later.

A great mountain bike trail is rarely an accident.

So, in honor of this year’s National Trails Day on June 6, here’s what we’d like to propose. If you can, consider giving back in some way to the trails you love. Maybe you’re a new user to the trail or more likely, you’re someone who’s always gotten out to ride, run, and hike, but maybe you’ve never gotten involved in a trail day or joined your local advocacy group or donated time or money to trail stewardship.

“I personally love the freedom, fun, and recreational opportunities that well built and maintained trail systems provide for myself, my friends, my community, and visitors alike,” says Jeremy Benson, a trail organizer for TAMBA, a Tahoe-area trail building organization. “There are many ways to support your local and regional trail organizations.” Participating in events, fundraising campaigns, and donating money are great ways to help these nonprofit groups fund their advocacy and trail building and maintenance efforts.”

Now is as good a time as any to support the groups that keep your favorite trails functioning. Get on the bandwagon now and hopefully you can continue your trail efforts well past National Trails Day. Here are a few ways to make a difference in your local trails.

Stay up to date with your local trail advocacy group.

That could mean just signing up for their email list or staying up to date on their needs and fundraisers. Need help figuring out what group is near you? Check out IMBA’s list of local networks. The long-distance thru-hiking trails across the country have well-established trail groups, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy along the East Coast, the Pacific Crest Trail Association along the West Coast, and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition in the Rocky Mountains.

“Being good stewards of the trail is another way to help the trails in general,” says Benson. “Being nice to other users, saying hi, moving the occasional branch or rock off the trail, and respecting the established rules of trail etiquette is important for all trail users.”

Get your hands dirty.

That could mean grabbing a pulaski and signing up for volunteer trail work. Or picking up trash as part of a cleanup—check out Clean Trails for ways to do that near you. Not all of these things are happening during the COVID-19 shutdown, so check for current cancelations, but the American Hiking Society leads volunteer vacations, Nature Groupie lists volunteer opportunities across New England, and the National Park Service has volunteer roles at parks all over the country. Here’s a list from Outside Magazine on local trail organizations that use and rely on volunteers.

“All of our volunteer days are currently canceled, but you can stay updated for future organized events—sign up for newsletters, check social media,” says Orion Kroeger, a trail builder and treasurer for BONC, a trail-building organization in northern California. “It’s highly discouraged to move dirt or cut anything using power tools without an organization, but anything you do to trim basic shrubbery out of the trails with hand pruners or your hands is a safe thing you can do by yourself.”

Consider contributing money

Most trail organizations run pretty lean and a good portion of donations of any size goes right back into the trails you're riding. Find your local trail organization and see how you can donate. You can even buy the Flylow COMBA Front T, part of our Good Lab initiative that benefits non-profit organizations, and proceeds from the purchase of your shirt go to support the Colorado Mountain Bike Association (COMBA) in their efforts to build and maintain mountain bike trails in Colorado’s Front Range.

“We sometimes get grants, but the majority of our annual operating budget comes from individual members,” says Kroeger. “You can sign up for a yearly membership, or you can just donate a few bucks. If you go for a ride somewhere new, consider donating to the local trail organization. Any amount helps—less than the cost of a tire still makes a difference.”

One More Cool Idea

Next time you go for a ride or a run, consider donating per mile to a local trail organization with help from Trail Care, which connects with Strava to help you donate on a per-mile basis to a local organization of your choosing. If you’re using the Trail Forks app to find your way, consider the app’s Trail Karma function, which lets you donate to the local trail organization of whatever trail you’re riding.

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