The Athens Bicycle Club has played an active role in the Athens area since 1971 and has been heavily involved in trail work days for about the last 15 years.
The trail work days focus on Baileys Trail System, Strouds Run State Park, Athens City Trails and Lake Hope State Park, which currently makes up approximately 75 miles of trails.
The trail work is done by a core group of volunteers who are not only bicycle club members but also hikers and trail runners. With so many miles of trails and only about 50 people who are currently actively participating, there is always work available.
The Athens Bicycle Club participates in Friends of Strouds Run State Park as well as Friends of Lake Hope State Park. The members work very closely with the management of the parks, as well as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA).
About 12 club members have been certified in Sawyer and Bucking training through the USDA’s Forest Service Department. Sawyer training allows for certification in proper use of chainsaws, while Bucking training teaches certifiees how to properly cut trees into sections so they can remove them from impeding the trails. These club members have also been certified in first-aid and CPR training. Club members have also received training from the IMBA on the ins-and-outs of trail work such as how to drain and cut trails.
The certifications allow for an efficient trail work day, where the certified club members break off into groups with non-certified or inexperienced volunteers, so they can be instructed on how to help, as well as be supervised when doing trail work. This creates a safer work environment as well as the ability for volunteers to cover more ground.
Bob West, president of Athens Bicycle Club, said he has spent the last six Saturdays working on the trails and a couple times during the week, too.
“If you don't use your volunteerism, you're gonna lose your trails,” West said. “There’s not going to be anybody else that does it for us. Mountain bikers need to take care of mountain bike trails. Anything humans do in a park system can be detrimental to the environment. And you've got to make sure that what you're doing isn't damaging. Public lands are for everybody to enjoy. But they're not really there for anybody to just love it and leave it.”
West has been a cyclist for most of his life. He believes mountain biking is a lifelong sport that many people are able to continue enjoying even into their older years due to the lack of damage it might cause the body like other high intense or contact sports. It also is environmentally friendly, as far as commuting goes.
“I would like to let other groups know that they're welcome to come and help,” West said. “Whether they're a hiker or a trail runner, or a mountain biker. It doesn't really matter.”
West said due to budget cuts in the last 10 years at the state parks, the maintenance crews are struggling just to keep up with cleaning campsites, mowing grass and keeping roadways open. There is no time for upkeep of trails, which is where the bike club involvement comes in.
Rob Delach, communications officer for the Athens Bicycle Club, has also taken on the role as volunteer coordinator for trail work days.
“Ultimately with the Baileys Trails, if there weren't local people to maintain the trails, they wouldn't have been built,” Delach said. “The National Forest has 250,000 miles of trails that don't meet standard now. That's an unbelievable number. That's just the ones they can't maintain properly. The Forest Service can’t keep up with our trail maintenance. At the national level, there is even discussion about why the Baileys is being built if we can't maintain what we already have. The answer was, we have local volunteers who are going to do that work.”
Delach said the trail work initiative could not be done alone. It is truly about the partnerships of the bicycle club with the parks, or the friends groups at the parks. He said coordinating with these groups and the staff of the parks, the city and the organizations who own and manage the parks is the key to making this work.
Kelly Shaw, an Athens Bicycle Club member since 2005, has been involved in trail work for over 15 years. She has been certified through the National Forest Service, and was a volunteer with their organization for a summer, where she received additional training on trail building and upkeep.
“I think trail work teaches you to be really observant when you're in the woods recreating,” Shaw said. “So, if you want to have a slightly different experience, whichever way you use trails, you could start just looking at things from a perspective of maintenance and stewardship. It gives you a different perspective that is interesting, and gives you a whole other lens to your activities. It is a pretty compelling way to interact with something.”
Shaw said there are general wise-use practices to using trails systems responsibly and sustainably. She said even if people are unable to get out and help on a trail work day, they can make sure they are being observant and educate themselves in responsible use of trails. For example, when coming across a muddy patch, one should walk straight through rather than around, because walking around widens the trail and makes the patch a bigger problem.
“Not a lot of people do trail work solo,” Shaw said. “So there is an organizational component that allows folks with experience to help people who are new learn some of the techniques and tricks. So there's teaching and learning involved. There's a lot of immediate gratification of fixing problems in real time with tools and a little bit of know how.”
Shaw said any time spent in the woods makes for a pretty good day. Trailwork is a never ending task, so new and interested folks are always helpful, Shaw said.
Shaw, West and Delach encourage anyone who wants to get involved with trail work days to find more information on the bicycle club’s website or Facebook. Anyone is welcome and no experience is required. Information on how to interact with trails sustainably is available through IMBA.