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The People Behind Mountain Biking in Vermont

May 9th, 2024 | by Keaton Smith

It’s a very exciting week for us at Bivo, because, today, we’re launching a new collab bottle with Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA). VMBA has made mountain biking in Vermont what it is today, and we’re proud to collaborate with them for the second year in a row. 

As mountain bikers and trail runners ourselves, we know how essential VMBA is to our recreation so we’re excited to help support them and get you involved as well! 

For every bottle sold, Bivo and your store will donate $2 to VMBA to help fund their projects and the projects of VMBA’s 28 local chapter groups. (Check out the VMBA bottles here!

I wanted to learn more about the structure of VMBA and its chapters as well as get a full picture of how much it really costs to maintain trails every year, so I sat down to connect with Adam Morse, the Executive Director of one of VMBA’s chapters, Fellowship of the Wheel (and Carina and Robby’s next door neighbor in Richmond!).

Fellowship of the Wheel is a non-profit that advocates for and maintains 100+ miles (ten networks) of public, multi-use trails in Chittenden County, Vermont. FOTW joined forces with VMBA in 2013

It was a pleasure to chat with Adam and I learned so much! It was so surprising to find out that FOTW's network of trails requires $160,000 annually to maintain. Thanks Adam, everyone else involved with FOTW, and thanks VMBA!

Keaton: Tell me about the relationship between VMBA and its chapters 

Adam: Around the same time that Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA) was founded, a lot of local, informal biking clubs were starting to develop.

Those days, there were groups of individuals that started getting into mountain biking and realizing that there weren't a lot of trails where they could go mountain biking. So, they started talking with private landowners and town select boards and folks, asking “Hey, can we go ride our bikes in these places?”

VMBA saw these conversations happening and realized there was a need in Vermont for greater advocacy to help push for the union of trails, state lands and private lands forward. 

All of this started local and statewide initiatives to advocate for trails. 

Over the years, more and more chapters started to organize and VMBA paved a way for them to do that. The model became this: VMBA manages membership logistics and member benefits, getting large sponsors on board to reissue grants back to the chapters. Then, fundraising to yet again generate grants that they can give back to chapters that are in need.

Keaton: How does VMBA help your chapter, Fellowship of the Wheel?

Adam: The fact that the VMBA office manages all those memberships across the state takes those financial logistics away from our chapter and allows us to put more energy into making sure that networks continue to have access, maintaining those networks, and doing community building programming. 

There are so many opportunities for us as an organization to pursue, and the VMBA office is a huge help because they’re a guide on so many levels, from legal matters to starting a new chapter to working on best management practice for trail building. They have a resource library that is immense and it walks through all the steps you would need to successfully guide you and mentor you into a thriving, community-building chapter.

VMBA also does an enormous amount to enable us to focus on the local landowner relations and building and maintaining trails and continue to provide programming. 

Keaton: How much does it cost to maintain your network of trails?

Adam: We invest roughly $12,000 to $16,000 per network per year, which is significant. With 10 different spaces and over 100 miles of trails, that means we’re investing $160,000 annually into trails.

Since money from memberships makes up roughly 50% of our budget, the other 50% comes from our own advocacy for sponsorships, our own applications to grants, and running our own events and donation drives. 

So, that means we are privately fundraising roughly $80,000 beyond the memberships every year. 

Keaton: How did the summer 2023 Vermont flooding impact trails and trail maintenance? 

Adam: The flooding had pretty varied impacts to networks across the state. We found that with Fellowship, there was no single flooding event that caused a major washout or damage to trails. 

But, looking back at our records from the year, our maintenance expenses were up 30% in 2023 compared to 2022.

This means we had a 30% increase in maintenance hours, which is several hundred hours of work for our trail crew. These hours were pinpointed to active water management, like reestablishing drains, looking for potential washouts, and certain rock work or bridge work projects to fortify and strengthen trails. 

Coming into this year, that's definitely changed how we look at how we will do this maintenance. We've planned fewer bigger projects and we have a lot of smaller projects, many of those are designed to make trails rideable during all conditions. 

Saxon Hill is one of our most popular networks, and it gets the most amount of traffic. Half the network has a really sandy soil sub layer, which is great for water. The water just drops right through it. There are very few days that that lower system would ever have a need to be closed. 

But as you get into the upper part of the network, the soils change, there's more ledge and they tend to be more saturated, which is a really tricky thing for us to manage. Much of that soil does shed water pretty well, but, this year, we're looking at how to strengthen and harden certain areas of that trail so that it can be ridden in all conditions. Regardless of how wet or dry of a summer we have. 

I think a lot of other chapters around the state are doing this type of work. And there have been some flood recovery grant projects in the works that will help allow VMBA chapters to improve certain areas for more extreme weather resilience. 

Keaton: How can people get involved with Fellowship of the Wheel? 

Adam: We have a number of trail clinics. In the past, we've called them trail days. However, with the instruction that volunteers get at these trail days, it's really more fitting that we call it a trail clinic, because we want to invite and encourage people that have never done trail work to come join us.

This is not just going to be picking up and chucking rocks. This will be learning about a lot of different methods and tools that we can use to do trail work. And it's less about how much work we can get done but more about involving and educating the community to make them better trail stewards.

For some folks who want to do this work on their own, it equips them with the tools and knowledge to go out and help in unsupervised settings. With every trail clinic, we have a stand up talk at the beginning where we cover everything from tools and safety for the job and the intended purpose of the project to some of the forest ecology considerations and hydrology considerations.

There are roughly 12 days on the schedule that folks can get involved in and there are also several other great chapters in the neighborhood that host similar trail days as we do.

Keaton: What's your favorite trail to ride in all of Vermont? 

Adam: I've always loved Black Forest at Burke. But, locally within our networks, Sheep Thrills is a favorite in the Hinesburg Town Forest. But my all-time favorite I have to go with is Low Flow at Saxon Hill. I've never had a bad time on that trail. And it goes through this beautiful red pine forest with sandy soil. It's good in all conditions. And you can just cruise and have a great time on it. It is literally a trail that's accessible for everyone.

We just finished adaptive upgrades on that trail in 2023, and we made several of the boardwalks and bridges on that trail wider to accommodate those adaptive mountain bikes, which also has great benefits for new and risk averse riders. For the bridge material, we chose a rough cut hemlock, which has more grip in the wet, as opposed to the pressure treated decking boards that we used previously, which are super slippery when they're wet.

In the past, there were a few things working against us at that network, and now, those upgrades have really just made it a trail that's enjoyable for everyone. 

Want to support VMBA and FOTW? Sign up to be a member today or snag some VMBA bottles for your shop.

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