Community Conversations

Grant Wieler

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. This four-part series was facilitated by the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA), and brought together leaders in outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, and trail building & advocacy to discuss the opportunities – and challenges – mountain biking faces in Vermont. Session topics included:

  • Planning for Social Outcomes
  • Planning for Environmental Outcomes
  • Trail Builders Forum
  • The Future of Mountain Biking in Vermont

Throughout these conversations, panelists shared their perspectives on topics ranging from community engagement to ecological impacts to sustainable trail construction. A full summary of each workshop, the attendees, and supporting resources can be found below, along with the videos from each session. Upon reflection, we pulled the following big takeaways from the conversations:

Trails should provide solutions.

In evaluating a new trail, we should all ask ourselves “what purpose does it serve?” Does it create a new or better loop, provide a different experience, alleviate congestion, access a positive control point, or otherwise create a better outcome for trail users? And how will a trail impact and, ideally, benefit the surrounding community?

Trails have impacts, positive and negative.

Once the upsides are known, we have to weigh these against the known and potential downsides trails can bring. What implications will there be for wildlife, congestion, and other users? A full understanding of the impacts, and honest discussions with those who advocate for other uses of the forest, will help inform if, where, and how a trail should be built, with the acceptance that while we need more trails, trails shouldn’t be everywhere.

Sustainably constructed trails begin with (system) design.

Users and nature will ultimately shape trail systems, and a network-level view is essential to planning how to get the most out of a particular area of the forest, and ensure users follow the trails as constructed, and minimize environmental and negative social impacts. Thoughtfully engaging experts, including professional trail builders, early on in the process will lead to better outcomes.

The future is bright.

Mountain biking has come a long way since its inception, and we have tremendous support from land managers, conservationists, and our incredible community to continue to grow and improve our trail systems. The tools to build sustainable, community-supported trails are there – as is the commitment to improve said tools and make trail development more efficient.

While the series wrapped in August, this isn’t the end of the conversation. We plan to reboot and revisit these topics over time and ensure we continue to track in the right direction. Stay tuned for updates about how you can help us get involved and share your perspective as we work to ensure a sustainable future for mountain biking in Vermont. 

Watch the Community Conversations Workshops