Why is it so important?

Trail Volunteerism

Bear Cieri

We asked some Vermont trail builders what they want riders to know about the work they do, and why building trails is so important for us all to understand. 

Trails are a Privilege 

The first thing many builders want you to know is how fragile the very existence of these trails are, and how privileged we, as riders, are to even have access to them. One remarked “…most trails you ride in VT are permission based with the landowner (i.e., not legal rights granted under easements, rights-of-way, etc.). So when you go to ride a new trail think of it as being a guest at someone’s house and you’d like to be invited back…One bad move by a visitor, for example, parking illegally, being rude to a neighbor or walker or horse rider, etc., could give reason for the landowner to pull [the] plug on the whole network…”  Indeed, trail volunteerism starts with recognizing how critical the work really is to get and keep access to these wonderful natural resources.

Trails Take Lots of Planning and Advance Work

Another critical factor mentioned is recognizing how much time is put into the proposing, planning, and procuring of permissions and permits for a trail: “there is so much happening behind the scenes before the first shovel moves dirt.  Agreements, endless meetings, permits, etc.”  Indeed, “… it takes a lot of planning to make sure the trail is legal, ecologically responsible, durable, and also fun. This takes a team and there’s always room on it for anyone interested.” So consider putting some volunteer hours in helping to get new trails approved, reach out to your local Chapter to see how you can help. 

Volunteer Time on a Trail Crew

An absolutely essential aspect that builders rely upon are volunteers who go out with their local community and help dig, clear, build, and maintain our trails. It’s easy to take for granted how many work hours actually go into crafting the terrain we ride, as one builder pointed out that riders often fail to recognize “the amount of time and energy that goes into a feature that may only last a few seconds when riding.” Thus, trail builders all suggest that you go out and see for yourself just how much time, energy, and cooperation it takes to build that berm, or to dig that drainage, or even just to rake that straightaway. One commented, “I think all riders need to become part of a trail team. The idea that a trail building and maintenance crew is different than those that ride the trails is wrong… Once folks put a little sweat equity into the trails, they have ownership. That ownership is what makes them want to respect and protect trails.” Look for posted volunteer trail days from your local VMBA chapter or on our Events page, and come be a part of the team, for “public trail days are so important because they get local riders to meet each other and work together in a sport that is sometimes quite solitary, or at least siloed, and give riders perspective on what has gone into each foot of trail of which we blithely ride miles of in any given ride.”

Learn All You Can from the Pros

Volunteer trail days are also critical learning opportunities, as trail bosses and team leaders offer instruction and knowledge about how to dig, how the terrain works, and what best practices we need to be conscious of both as builders and as riders: “some believe that they don’t have the necessary knowledge about trail building to dig in the dirt. Knowledge of trail building is a critical piece, but a willingness to take instruction from those in the know is just as important because many hands make light the work.” Getting on a trail crew is maybe the best way to learn about trails, ecology, user impact, and sustainability, even water flow and durability, something riders rarely, if ever, think about when zipping down singletrack: “build with water flow and durability in mind.  When I’m looking at a line, I’m looking at the landscape to see where I can avoid wet, low, or flat spots.  Once I decide to build a trail,  I’m thinking about how to shed water, or where I can dump it off the trail ASAP.”  Builders want you to know that “there is a lot that goes into where and why a trail is routed the way it is.  The trail we laid out this morning is on its third iteration of flagging with small but really important tweaks each time to make it better.”  

Find Other Ways to Help Support Trails and Your Local VMBA Chapter

We can’t all be trail builders, of course, or even volunteer diggers for that matter, but we CAN all volunteer in some way to help procure, build, and maintain trails and user access: “building trails is a labor of love for me and I don’t expect all to feel the same. For the ones that don’t like digging in the dirt for hours at a time, if they support the trails in other ways I am good with that.” Finally, be sure to show your appreciation for the tremendous efforts of trail builders and those who do the bulk of the work in crafting the trails we love to ride:, or as one builder put it “at least one post ride [beverage] should be raised to the trail builders of every network we ride.”

Volunteer!  Get out There and Help 🙂

So check in with your local VMBA chapter and find out when their next volunteer trail day is. Or check in on efforts to get new trails going and help collect signatures, attend town selectboard and zoning commission meetings.  Maybe work the grill at the next trail day, pick up trash around the parking lot at your favorite trail head, do communications work for your local chapter, or help coach kids, lead group rides, or anything else that makes your local riding community stronger.  Trail volunteerism and the associated activities that go into making mountain biking actually happen is a responsibility we all share.  So find your niche, and do your part, as it’s the community that makes this sport so wonderful to be a part of, and it’s the giving back that makes that community so strong. 

**When you do put your time in as a trail volunteer, be sure to log the hours you’ve helped through our Reward Volunteers program, there are some great prizes you could win when you volunteer!

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