Trail Construction and Design FAQ
Lately BMA has received a lot of feedback from trail users about recent changes to trails such as Picture Rock and Sugar Mag. The BMA Trails Team wants you to understand why these changes happen, who does them, and how you can be the change you want to see. Check out this FAQ for answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Was your question not answered? Contact the BMA Trails Team at email@example.com.
- Who's in charge here?
- What does "sustainable trail" mean?
- I liked the trail how it was - why did you change it?
- I want gravity trails, can BMA build some of those?
- I pay BMA dues, why don't they do what I want?
We are often asked the question "who is in charge here" in conjunction with why a project is done or how it's designed. This is not a one answer question. If it is the City of Boulder or Boulder County property, that "who" is the agency. The city and county both have year-round staff working on their respective properties. Each agency solicits different levels of participation from volunteer organizations, but each makes the final decision on what & how work gets done. If the trails are on Forest Service land, the "who" is still the agency, but because of limited funding for USFS lands, they try and partner with volunteer organizations (like BMA) and will work with organizations on trail design but the agency expects that design to stay within an accepted standard.
One thing that many users don't consider is that the land agencies, especially the City and County, are not necessarily managing for recreation but rather, for resource protection. Go to any City Council meeting and you will see the diversity of the stake holders, aka, Tax Payers, who are all pushing for their own use of the land. Though many riders love rocky and challenging trails, if they are too rocky or challenging for the average user (hoof, foot or tire) then those users will find their own way around, causing trail braiding or widening. Land managers see this as resource damage and make the decision to "sanitize" the trail to keep people on the trail in hopes of minimizing damage to the general trail corridor.
When we begin to conceptualize a trail, we use the same standards established by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (http://www.imba.com/catalog/book-trail-solutions).
We ask three basic questions:
- Does the trail limit environmental impacts?
- Will the maintenance of the completed trail be minimal?
- Can we minimize user conflict with the design?
Then we add many considerations to those questions, depending on the area and use. We look at who will be using the trail - is it primarily bikes or will there be multiple-users? We look at the stability of the soil - is it dry and rocky and prone to erosion or will in pack nicely? We consider the effects of water - is the trail in an area prone to flooding? We look at the terrain and determine what is an appropriate grade for the trail.
BMA, being an entirely volunteer organization, does not just change trails for fun. Organizing volunteer work days requires time and funding and we don't make the effort without good reason. Often, citizens will contact the agency and let them know that an area is washed out, rocks are loose or some such. The agency will assess the situation and if they determine a change is needed, they will either do it themselves or they will hold a volunteer day. City and County property trails are generally multi-use so if there is an area that is good for bikes but might be bad for hikers or horses, then that area will probably be addressed. Sadly, bikes are at the bottom of the heap with respect to user groups so if there is an area of trail that some see as a fun, rocky, technical ride but it happens to be in an area of high multi-use, that section will probably be "sanitized" or altered to address the problem that may exist in a sustainable fashion.
We would love to build gravity-oriented trails. The BMA Trails Team is looking into doing just that for the West Mag area, and is still considering how it might fit into the overall plan there or elsewhere in the county.
The largest issue with regard to gravity trails is the high resource commitment (that means money and labor). We have a difficult time with getting volunteers to produce the man hour resources that are needed to both construct and maintain these types of trails. That's why we're looking at including this opportunity at West Mag via a grant for construction. Keep in mind that gravity oriented trails often can cost up to $30k per mile to build vs. $5k or so for cross country trails. Until funds or man hour resources materialize, BMA (or any land agency, for that matter) will not have the capacity to construct these trails. At BMA, we are working to buy machinery that would allow us to cut the resources needed significantly.
BMA immensely appreciates membership dues, especially dues paid in volunteer sweat. When we help design, construct or otherwise alter an existing trail it is done with our members' considerations first. This means representing the desire to have challenging trails for all levels but always making "sustainable" our first priority.
While we encourage email and social media input from our members, the absolute best way to understand the how, why, when and where we make decisions is to get involved with the process. This is the only true way to understand the process that leads us to trails on the ground. We have been advocating on behalf of mountain biking for over a decade. As such, we have seen successes such as Valmont Bike Park, city trails (finally) west of Broadway in the form of Springbrook trail, as well as designing and constructing the first ever legal technical features in Boulder County on Re-Root Trail. We will continue to advocate for trails, work to engage the electorate, trail volunteers, run Bike Patrol and have social activities to build community around mountain biking.