By: Brandon Glanville
It’s easy to take something for granted. We, as humans, do it all the time and oftentimes it doesn’t even register in our consciousness. Hence the term. For most of my life I have been incredibly fortunate to live in Idaho, enjoying this vast and diverse landscape and all it has to offer. I have taken for granted the incredible access that I have always had to world class singletrack in some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, not to mention the endless back roads that crisscross the Intermountain West. It has always just been there and I have had little reason to think that this might change. Not in a significant way anyhow. However, things are changing, especially as the population of some of the more remote places in the country, like Idaho, is growing. Change that sometimes creeps in so slowly that it is almost imperceptible unless you are really paying attention and other changes that explode in front of you.
Over the years, I have had many conversations and participated in efforts to keep trails and OHV areas open or to get trails built. I would occasionally join in on a “work day” in my local area cleaning up a slot canyon full of trash or throwing a pick and shovel on a reroute. Most of the time, these efforts were focused outside of my home state and my effort was anecdotal as an industry insider helping out where I could. But to be honest, I don’t know how meaningful those efforts really were. Two years ago, I had a tough conversation with Mark Kincart from KLIM USA and it became clear that I needed to get more involved. I got called out, and for good reason.
Everything we take for granted can and will change. Access to public lands and the single track we enjoy now is in the crosshairs of a number of well organized and well funded special interest groups on both sides of the aisle. I asked myself what can Upshift do to become a positive force in this conversation? Ultimately what we are talking about is taking a stance on an issue that is political in nature, and anything political is full of landmines. No matter how good our intentions are, we run the risk of stepping on one of those land mines. Thankfully Mark kept calling and sending me information and ideas that got me to commit to joining in for a work event on the Bear Creek Trail Project in Southeast Idaho, a multi-use trail in the Palisades Ranger District of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
So last May I loaded up the van with a BETA 300RR that I borrowed from Rodney Smith, some camping gear and a cooler, and took off to meet Mark in Idaho Falls at the KLIM headquarters. We had a late lunch and headed out to the campground where we were going to stage for the weekend. At this point I really did not know much about the specific project. I was assuming we would ride down the trail a ways, start digging and moving some rock around, bottled water and orange wedges would be handed out, and we would take some pictures. That evening I was introduced to a number of folks around the campfire and exchanged pleasantries. This is when I met Brian DiLenge, East Region Trail Specialist for Idaho State Parks and Recreation and Mike Evans of (ISTA) the Idaho Single Track Alliance. These guys spend most of the summer riding singletrack on dirtbikes with a load of tools keeping the trails in the region tip top and building programs to keep users involved. They had a thing or two to say and I had questions, but it was time to get some sleep.
The next morning, I crawled out of the sleeping bag to find the number of people in camp had grown significantly as more had arrived in the middle of the night and in the wee hours of the morning. All told there were roughly 50 volunteers in addition to a dozen or so Forest Service and State staff on hand. Most impressive was that the group was a mix of motorized, mountain bike, and equestrian users, all getting along laughing and talking about the day ahead while consuming large quantities of Mark Kincart’s french toast and hilariously inappropriate jokes. With everyone there, we had a quick safety meeting with Colby Jacobson from the Forest Service and off we went.
I rode in with Brian and his son. Brian made sure to stop at an impressively stout bridge that they had built last year in the first phase of the Bear Creek Trail Project. This wasn’t a simple footbridge built with a couple of lodgepole pines from the forest. He explained to me that the bridge we were going to build this weekend would be like this one but twice as big. My first reaction was kept private but it went something along the lines of, “ha, sure we are buddy.” Another 3 or 4 miles down the trail and sure enough, there was a team of pack horses getting unloaded with tools, a generator, hundreds of pounds of nails and bolts and all those people I just had breakfast with, ready to go. This bridge was going to be 45 feet long. The beams were so big that a helicopter was needed to bring them in the previous fall. Fortunately, before the beams were flown in, the Forest Service and state crews were able to place the abutments and the helicopter was able to set them down across the river. This was a significant head start. The smaller bridge we had stopped at earlier required every timber to be pulled from the trail head by draft horses including all of the fill. This bridge was
bigger, but there were a couple of advantages. The biggest advantage being that a number of the people working on this bridge had the experience from the smaller bridge and had a good primer for what was happening on this day.
With very little being said, everyone just got to work like it was their day job. A little guidance from the Forest, State and ISTA personnel and everyone figured out where they could be useful and got to it. In my experience, when you get that many people together in one place trying to accomplish a task, it can get a little tough to keep things moving forward and certainly safety can be a concern. There was a natural fluidity to this group that was really impressive. The plans were unrolled and the bridge was under way. The biggest chunk of labor was excavating and moving the backfill for both ends of the bridge by hand. We had that bridge built in one day. Yes, the beams being roughly in place and the abutments having been built last fall was great, but the efficiency and effort of the team was incredible. Several months later, it still makes me smile.
All these people come from different backgrounds and have different needs from public lands, but there seemed to be a collective reasoning that everyone there intuitively understood. If we don’t work together as trail users despite our differences and become a net positive for the trail systems at large, we are all going to start losing some of these opportunities. The reality of the situation is that the budgets for building and maintaining trails are not growing, they are shrinking. As more people head out each year and use trails all over the western US, it is only getting harder to keep them maintained. In some cases, the only course of action for some agencies that oversee these trails is to close them, especially when users are damaging trails and the surrounding areas. It’s happening far too often and we all shoulder the responsibility AND the consequences.
So how did this project come to be? How did a bunch of motorized users, mountain bikers, equestrians, and local businesses join forces with the Forest Service, the State of Idaho and a number of grassroots organizations to improve many miles of trail and make it more sustainable for the long term enjoyment of everyone? The Snake River Trail Alliance is an organization that Brian DiLenge helped to form with the goal of pulling all of the user groups together to give them a collective voice. They went to the Forest Service and asked them how we can help and offered some ideas that could become solutions. Those ideas led to plans and pulling together resources from the private sector. Resources like a $30,000 grant from the Anheuser-Busch Foundation had been put forward for clean water projects in addition to funds from Wackerli Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Subaru Dealerships, Action Motorsports, Lithia Ford and of course Klim USA.
As I drove back to Boise, I realized that I need to pay more attention; pay attention to this incredible opportunity that I take for granted because it can go away. It won’t go away all at once. It will happen slowly, in some cases almost unnoticeably until all of a sudden a larger than realized portion of our trails and OHV areas will no longer be available to us. It has already happened in a significant way in Southern California and that is not a pattern we can allow to continue. I ask that everyone reading this think about getting more involved. Volunteer a day or two a year to work on trails. Buy your OHV stickers, as those dollars build and maintain trails and give us a lot of power to keep those trails OHV accessible into the future. Be courteous to your neighbors on the trail. Building a bridge within your community with other user groups is a powerful force for all.
Thank you to the following people and organizations for their help on this project.
And thank you to all the people working tirelessly to keep trails open everywhere. It can be a thankless job and we do appreciate it.
• Photos provided by Jared Fisher - Forest Service & Brandon Glanville
• US Forest Service: Tracy Hollingshead, Ranger & Colby Jacobson - Recreation Mgr.
• Idaho Department Parks and Recreation: Brian Dilenge
• Idaho Single Track Alliance (ISTA): Mike Evans
• Snake River Mountain Bike Club: Craig Stoddard
• Eagle Rock Back Country Horsemen: Aline Brickman
• Anheuser-Busch Foundation
• Wackerli Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Subaru Dealerships
• Action Motorsports
• Lithia Ford
• Idaho Falls Trail Machine Association (IFTMA) - Ben Hawker
• Advocates for Multiple Use on Public Lands (AMPL) - Will Mook