Equal Access to Trails

Ryan Bent

One thing’s for sure, since the outbreak of Covid-19 we’ve learned that having access to trails  and the outdoor world is more important than ever.  Here in Vermont we are so fortunate to have so many trail networks accessible to us, thanks to the generosity of private land-owners, and the work of our state and local trail organizations.  And, thankfully trail development continues despite financial pressures, since trail visits increased by double digits throughout our region this past season. All of this is great news, but does everyone feel they have equal access to our trails?  Are there barriers for some who may not feel welcome, which so many of us otherwise take for granted?  These are questions that we’ve become more acutely aware of as a result of a societal awakening in the aftermath of the killings of people like George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery – who was just out for a recreational run in his neighborhood. 

Over the years, the mountain bike community, as with so many others, has had to take a look at the lack of diversity in the sport. While mountain biking is still a white, heterosexual, male dominated sport, the demographic has expanded after conscious efforts have been applied to make it more inclusive and welcoming. Women, for example, in some cases have felt intimidated to give it a try.  But after years of women’s specific program development, including female group rides; girls and women have found the confidence and ability to not only participate, but to flourish, in increasing numbers.  Efforts and accomplishments for more inclusivity have also been made by the LGBTQIA+ community; and adaptive athletes are benefitting from new trail initiatives specifically designed to provide additional opportunities for the physically impaired.  There’s more work to do though, including focus on black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) as well; and eliminating conscious and unconscious bias.  We need to lean into their stories and understand the perceived and existing barriers, in order to help break them down, and otherwise provide more welcoming, supported, and equal access.  

VMBA is committed to achieving a more diverse, equitable, inclusive and just community, highlights, details and resources of which can be found here. Chapters are doing their part individually as well all across the state. For example, Fellowship of the Wheel, Stowe Trails Partnership, Waterbury Area Trails Alliance, and Richmond Mountain Trails hosted their Maple Queens Inter-chapter Ride in 2019 to provide a space for womxn to build an inclusive community. Addison County Bike Club hosted their own Ladies (W/T/F) Group Rides last year. Mad River Riders hosts Mad River Rippers and Woodstock Area MTB Association hosts a youth Summer SOAK program in efforts to overcome barriers for youth. In 2020 Stowe Trails Partnership hosted an interactive workshop with Mirna Valerio, entitled “Equity in the Outdoors”. While VMBA and all of our Chapters are making efforts to build a more diverse, equitable, inclusive and just community, we recognize that we are still learning and listening along the way. We all look forward to this upcoming year where these topics will be in the forefront of our strategic planning as an organization.

The next time we hit the trails, let’s make sure we are inviting, and promoting equal opportunities, no matter one’s skin color, gender, ability, or what they look like or who they choose to love.  Together we can support and strengthen our relationships with each other, because when we do, we recognize the gift of our shared humanity, and as a result, reach new heights of enjoyment and gratitude. This is at the core of who we are.

As Christian Cooper said (the now well known bird watcher of Central Park) “The dream for us – as a nation, not just as Black people – is that we take this moment, with all the pain and all the loss, and use it to actually make some progress this time.” 

Share the trail, and share the joy.

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