Q & A (#2)
Q: Trail Building/Maintenance: What’s the process?
How is it determined where and how the trails get built, their design, their
construction and their rebuilding (when necessary)?
A. rvaMORE has been working closely with land managers for over ten years not only to increase our off-road trail network, but to identify and brainstorm solutions for problem areas that creep up on the various trails. Since the ecology in the parks is in a constant state of change, it is necessary to identify, maintain and work proactively with these changes to keep issues at bay. When we build new trail, how is it determined where trail is put down? Who decides its design and the construction method? When we maintain trail, who decides what sections need reworking and why? We’re going to break it all down for you in this Q&A.
1. WHO is involved?
a. An important piece of information about trail building is that the advocacy groups (e.g. rvaMORE, Friends of Pocahontas State Park, etc.) do not have free reign to build trail wherever and whenever they want. The building process is a collaboration between the land managers, the advocacy groups, affected neighborhood associations and possibly other consultants such as IMBA and even hired contractors. It all depends on the project in question.
b. The land managers (e.g. James River Park Staff) have the ultimate authority on the trail design and construction method and approval of any and all trail work projects.
c. Who else is involved? Volunteers! (And we appreciate you!)
2. WHAT is involved?
a. Identify the need: Need can originate from several sources, including land managers, advocacy groups, and/or individual park users. Also identified are the general location of the need (e.g., Buttermilk East, North Bank) and the targeted users of that location (e.g., bikers, hikers, dog walkers, birders, etc.) The need could be as simple as the desire for new trail or more technical trail features or the need could be the result of a hazardous condition (fallen tree, storm damage, land slide) or unforeseen erosion and/or drainage problems.
b. Communicate the need: Once the need has been identified, the source alerts the land manager or advocacy group.
c. Assessment: The land managers assess the existing state of the trail bed of the area in need and try to forecast any foreseeable issues. Whether building new trail or reworking existing trail with erosion/drainage issues, the composition of the soil and rock are examined along with the surrounding, supporting environment. If on a hillside, is the slope going to present any challenges? What native plant species are present to help control erosion? Is there full access to the area or is the area restricted in some way, etc.
d. Collaboration: After the assessment phase, the land managers meet with the advocacy group(s), neighborhood associations, consultants, etc. to discuss a feasible design of the area, including the estimated cost of the project (man power as well as tool and equipment needs). The design phase also takes into account who the anticipated users of the trail will be.
e. Identify Funding Sources: Will the project be funded by the land manager, advocacy group, or possibly a combination of the two? Can materials (i.e., lumber, hardware, soil, stone) be sourced through private donations or from the land manager? Does the identified project require tools and/or equipment that the club doesn’t have? If so, the board members of rvaMORE discuss funding options to obtain the necessary materials, tools and/or equipment.
f. Green Light, Go?: Before the work can begin, the land manager has to give the final approval on the project.
g. Make it Happen: Once we’ve been given the go ahead, the club schedules and coordinates the trail work day(s). Depending on the scope of the project (and the participation of the weather), it could be knocked out in one day or may require several weekends of work. The club communicates through social media when and where the trail work will occur and the trail bosses secure the proper tools, equipment and trained volunteers to execute the design.
h. CELEBRATE THE SUCCESS!: After the work is complete, celebrate by RIDING YOUR BIKE!!
i. Two more things: First, the work, as mentioned in “h” above, is never really complete. The James River Park System, in particular, is a unique environment and is constantly evolving due to natural forces and heavy use alike. The park and trail managers don’t just work in the park. They ride bikes too and monitor changes in the trail system closely. Everyone involved in the process does their best to build and maintain trail that has the least amount of environmental impact and utilizes construction techniques that minimize future maintenance and rework. However, because the environment is always changing, challenges present themselves in different ways. This is why it is so important to give the trails a rest if they are muddy and to stay on the single track path and not ride around technical trail features unless there is a dedicated and purposely built ride around. (To that end, if you can’t ride something, walk it. There is no shame in doing so.)
Second, as mentioned above, our trail systems serve a huge swath of the community and a wide variety of users. The trails are constructed with the collective community in mind, not solely for mountain bikers. Keep in mind that while rvaMORE leads the advocacy for, and construction of, great RVA mountain bike trails, they are built with many other users in mind beyond the mountain bike community.