Sunday, March 28, 2010

To The Trail Builders: Thanks, Folks!

As I've noted here a time or two, I've become much more comfortable and enthusiastic about mountain biking over the past winter. Whereas my previous forays on the trail were motivated primarily by weather conditions that  I deemed too crappy for the road (and I'll accept a broad range of poor conditions for road riding!), these days, I head to the woods because I've found joy on fat tires and appreciate a little diversity in my riding. This expansion of my range would not have happened if it were not for the convenient access to a wide range of quality local trails. From the easy flats of the Pfiefer Loop near the BDB to the many miles of single-track at Camp Robinson to the rocky, rooty slopes of the Burns Park Boy Scout Trails, like road riders, Central Arkansas dirt riders enjoy an embarrassment of riches when it comes to riding opportunities. And that's just the stuff that is within the city of North Little Rock! Stretch the loop a little bit and you pick up Little Rock's notable Allsop Park, where many of the area's best riders cut their teeth. I'm still new to the sport and have had little motivation to go further than Camp Robinson and Burns Park since both are just minutes from home, so I'm sure there are many miles of good riding that I haven't even heard of.
A common thread of all of the primo venues is that somebody had to build the trails or help make existing trails suitable for the bike and somebody has to do the maintenance to keep them ridable. It seems like magic to most of us that bridges appear over muddy sloughs, flat rocks arrange themselves in line across small creeks, trails get rerouted around mud holes and drainage structure pop up in problem spots. In riding at Camp Robinson lately, I had noticed that the trail elves had been hard at work. A washout on Christmas Tree Extension was replaced a well thought-out drainage system. Trails all over the system have been shifted to avoid the worst of the winter's mud holes, rocks have been hauled and placed and more bridges and ramps are appearing. Folks, this stuff ain't magic. It's the result of the hard work of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to make difference for the benefit of the rest of us. I ran across some of these guys as I finished up a ride at Camp Robinson on Saturday. First, I came upon Lane (I apologize for not getting his last name) loading up a wheelbarrow with rocks for a trip into Ten Bridges Trail to add some bottom the many sloppy stretches of that often-wet trail. If you've ever had the pleasure of pushing a heavily loaded wheelbarrow, you know that it's simply hard labor and most of the trail work at Camp is done miles from any vehicular access. Then, back at the parking lot, I found Bryan Shipman and his crew of young trail builders preparing to haul in a new bridge structure for a particularly troublesome stretch of Outer Loop.

This drainage structure was recently built by Lane near the entrance to the Christmas Tree Extension trail, and includes collection system, a drain pipe and outlet, and a rebuilt trail surface over the top. Such work is vital to maintain the ridability of the trails. Just walking in requires a significant level of commitment.

Bryan Shipman and his crew prepare for the haul-in. The beams were strapped to a wheelbarrow frame and some cross members were tacked on for the trip. The rest of the cross members, cut to length, were loaded into the backpacks and carried in by the young men.

Special projects require special tools, like Bryan's bridge hauler.

 I wrote awhile back about my experience on the Sylamo Trail system near Mountain View. Devastating ice storms closed the entire 50 mile system last year. This looks more like a commercial timber operation than trail clearing, but force of mostly volunteers has cleared the whole trail system in what had to be a massive effort.

The purpose of this article is to serve as reminder of our good fortune in having such great riding resources and that those resources don't come easy. On top of the trail building, outfits like CARP deserve our gratitude for working with the Camp Robinson administration to regain access to the facility in the post 9-11 world.  Other individuals and groups have worked to gain or keep access to a number of local venues.

To all of you, thank-you. As much as I've been enjoying the trail lately, I owe you a little shovel time.

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