Advocacy

Ryan Bent

VMBA serves as a collective voice for mountain bike advocacy in Vermont. Guided by our mission to ensure the sustainable future of trail riding in our State, we pursue a set of goals that seek to secure trail access, reduce the administrative burden on our Chapters, and support the development of amazing trail networks state-wide. Mountain biking has come a long way since VMBA was founded in 1997, and our growth as well as the trail-building standards we follow and relationships we have developed have enabled us to become a leader in outdoor recreation advocacy in Vermont. 

What do we mean by “advocacy”?

Almost every day and throughout our state, there are efforts to take away our access to trails and ability to develop new and better outdoor recreational assets for all to enjoy. Simply put, our advocacy work encompasses all our efforts to guide state and local policies, protect the trails we currently steward, and make it easier to add to and improve our trail networks while ensuring we consider community goals and minimize environmental impacts. As outlined below, advocacy can take many forms – from testifying in Montpelier to building coalitions to thought leadership – all of which are necessary to achieve a stable and thriving future for mountain biking in our state and complement the on-the-ground trail building and maintenance efforts led by our Chapters.

Grant Wieler

Our Goals

  • Protect and, ultimately, reward private landowners who host public access trails on their land, including:
    • Thoughtful reform to the regulation of trail construction and maintenance, and, specifically, an alternative to Act 250 for public-access trail projects
    • Modernization of the Current Use program, which rewards landowners through tax breaks for land put into agricultural, forestry, and conservation uses, but not public-access outdoor recreation
  • Showcase the ability of outdoor recreation – and mountain bike trails, specifically – to simultaneously foster economic development, improve public health, and facilitate environmental conservation
  • Secure greater funding for our Chapters and other trail stewardship organizations in Vermont 
  • Increase public awareness, understanding, and support for mountain bike trail systems
  • Grow diversity in outdoor recreation, and build an inviting and inclusive mountain bike community that any individual can be a part of

How We Do It

  • Listening to stakeholders, including landowners, riders, other user groups, community representatives, and conservation organizations
  • Leadership in the Vermont Trails and Greenways Council (VTGC), the statewide organization of trail associations responsible for advising the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) on trail oversight and regulation
  • Working relationships with State agencies, officials, and legislators
  • Active collaboration with the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks, and Recreation in managing trails on State land and shaping State support and oversight
  • Active collaboration with the US Forest Service in stewarding trails in the Green Mountain National Forest and in pursuing federal funding for trail projects 
  • Engagement with and recruitment of the outdoor and outdoor-minded business community, including the Vermont Outdoor Business Alliance (VOBA)
  • Providing testimony in Montpelier
  • Activating our membership on critical issues
  • Lobbying in support of or opposition to key pieces of legislation

What Are Our Major Challenges?

ACT 250 looms large over outdoor recreation in Vermont. Act 250 is Vermont’s overarching land use and development law, enacted over 50 years ago to protect our communities and environment from unchecked development. Act 250 has been instrumental in the Vermont we enjoy today and the primary reason so much of our state has preserved its outdoor beauty while thoughtfully accounting for commercial, industrial, and residential growth.

When it was crafted in 1970, recreational trails were considered ‘commercial or industrial construction’ and are subject to Act 250 jurisdiction under certain conditions. While Act 250 is a valuable asset to Vermont, we have learned a lot over the past 50 years; most notably for us, that the Act 250 permitting process can be an onerous, expensive endeavor beyond the scope and resources of most trail organizations, and that private landowners will often walk away from trail projects that require an Act 250 permit. Given that 80% of our trails are on private land, this presents an enormous challenge to growing outdoor recreation in Vermont.

Furthermore, the one-size-fits-all permitting process does not match up with the actual development impacts trails can have, a misalignment that has led to confusion, inconsistency, and many stalled or abandoned trail projects. Fortunately, we have the Vermont Trail System (VTS), which raises the threshold for triggering Act 250 for public access trails and built through an official VTS organization (like VMBA), though even these constraints discourage larger, long-term planning and more connected trail systems – two things Vermont needs in our future trail development. You can read our summary on Trail Projects and Act 250 to learn more.

Rogue trail building also presents an enormous challenge to our efforts to secure a sustainable future for mountain biking in Vermont. The building of trails on public land without permission was the origin of some of our most popular trail systems. Today, however, we have established partnerships with the public land managers and processes in place to ensure trail building balances the many uses for and needs of public land while avoiding negative environmental impacts.

Continued development and use of rogue trails harms our ability to improve those processes and ultimately have more and better trail networks on public land. Land managers have also made it clear that “ask forgiveness, not permission” will no longer be tolerated in trail development, with stricter consequences and enforcement for those who decide to shape public land to their own individual image, be it for tires, skis, or boots. Please read our Statement on Rogue Trail Building on Public Land to learn more. 

New Technology

New Technology

New Technology, including electronic mountain bikes, continually forces us to reevaluate trail guidelines and network designs. We have to embrace the fact that our sport will evolve, while evaluating and understanding the resulting impacts on trails, users, and the environment. Our approach is to learn, educate, then advocate. Concerning eMTBs, specifically, Vermont is well-positioned to explore the integration of pedal-assist mountain bikes into trails, given our myriad land ownership and ability of individual landowners and Chapters to pilot or open up access and evaluate impacts. We can be a leader in this area and use real world evidence to inform eMTB use across the country. Visit our eMTB page to learn more.
Learn More Zach Walbridge

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion remain a major challenge for the mountain biking community, specifically, and Vermont, generally. We continually assess whether our advocacy efforts are sufficiently pushing us towards these goals, and what additional efforts we can make to become a more inviting, diverse, and vibrant user group to help make our state a more welcoming place for people of all backgrounds, colors, sexual orientation, efc… This is ‘forever work’, and we are committed to integrating it into our advocacy as well as our organization.
Our DEI Pledge Ryan Bent

Community Conversations

In the summer of 2021, VMBA co-hosted a virtual workshop series with the US Forest Service and Vermont Forest, Parks, and Recreation entitled “Community Conversations: Planning for the Future of Mountain Biking in Vermont.”

How You Can Help

  • Learn more about how trails are currently regulated through Act 250, and what we’d like to see oversight look like in the future
  • Read our Position Paper on Rogue Trailbuilding on Public Land, and stay on trails that are officially approved by the land owner/manager for mountain biking
  • Be an ambassador of our community on and off the trail, and consider signing the Ride with Gratitude pledge 
  • Visit Trails are Common Ground, and see how the collective trail user community is working to ensure everyone has a respectful, inclusive, safe, and enjoyable experience out on the trail
  • If you have the means, consider donating to VMBA and supporting our central office, which is responsible for our advocacy efforts