IMBA’s 2016 Access and Advocacy Work
Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up.” “The world is run by those who show up” is frequently noted in all arenas of life. “Be the change you wish to see” (Dalai Lama) is another call to action. The underlying premise of these three aphorisms is the same: participating in the process is essential to getting what you what.
Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreation sports in the country, and access for mountain bikers to great trails has been increasing across the U.S. on both public and private lands. Yet there continue to be trails where mountain bikers lose access, like the example of Los Altos Hills, CA, where mountain bikes were banned from trails in Byrne Preserve. To maintain access to the trails we love to ride and steward, it is essential that mountain bikers are active participants shaping the future of outdoor recreation.
In other words: we need to show up. And why? Because in the public process—the process that decides who can access certain places and what people can do there—the majority wins. To win, you have to be present and be an active participant in the process.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it’s also not as difficult. In the public policy world, mountain bikers are a smaller, somewhat isolated group compared to many of the other stakeholders jostling for access. It is estimated there are approximately eight million mountain bikers in the U.S. but only about 40,000 of these are members of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), the national advocacy organization. In turn, the largest environmental organizations boast over two million members (and that’s only a few national groups, not counting the hundreds of other state and local groups). Think about what it would mean if just 25% of all mountain bikers became official members of an advocacy organization—with 2 million people, we’d have a much stronger voice to protect mountain biking access and trails.
Along with being a smaller representative group, mountain bikers also face a pervasive negative perception from some other recreationists that they are reckless, destructive, and sometimes selfish. What does this mean for the modern mountain biker? How can riders continue to preserve access to trails and increase future opportunities?
Whenever we as citizens in our democratic society want something different our natural tendency is to justify our desired outcome based on the merits of our arguments. Perhaps we will “win” if we just proclaim our views louder and to more people? However, it’s far more instructive to examine the issue of trail access for mountain bikes from a different perspective; that of land managers and elected officials. Here are some specific actions that all mountain bikers can take to “show up” and ensure that we can continue to make access gains, and prevent being locked out of trails.Trail building volunteers from the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance chapter near Boulder, Colo.,working on a new trail that was approved through a lengthy process of planning meetings and public commenting.
Keys to Showing Up
Elected Officials and Land Managers
Elected officials and land managers are generally charged with making decisions for the public for the greater good, so they are looking for consensus, collaboration, and clarity.
(1) Bring Resources
Elected officials are informed by people or information that they find persuasive and credible. That doesn't mean an official is always completely informed with all pertinent information. To be well informed takes work and time, and it's unrealistic to think that elected officials can be well informed about every issue that they face. To be part of the access solution, the mountain biking community must be providers of credible, factual information.
(2) Bring Unity
If there’s one thing elected officials are looking for, it’s consensus. Consensus makes it easier to make quality decisions. Sadly, the mountain biking community itself can at times be fractured by the lack of a collective voice or unity. Having different opinions about trail types, bike types, styles of riding and more is fine for trailhead conversation, but in the public policy process, it handicaps our political influence and our credibility as a community.
(3) Bring Solutions
To be effective in the public policy realm we must be providers of solutions. In any given public lands situation or access challenge, the mountain biking community must be willing to take action to solve problems.
In Your Community
Before you can bring consensus and clarity to elected officials or land managers, you need to welcome and engage them in your community.
(1) Be Engaged
As an individual or organization, resolve to be an active participant; not disengaged. Many IMBA chapters and mountain bikers have earned an admirable reputation for their significant contributions to trail maintenance on public lands as volunteer stewards. In fact, IMBA’s 210+ chapters and members nationwide provide nearly one million hours of skilled stewardship to public land managers every year. This not only provides a huge value to under-resourced land managers, but strategically this spirit of selflessness and volunteer public service conveys a powerful advocacy message.
(2) Be Gracious
Demonstrate genuine gratitude and sincere appreciation to the land managers who are welcoming to mountain bikers. IMBA chapters conduct social events and rides for members and often invite partners, local elected officials and land managers to show appreciation. Personal thank you letters and public Letters to the Editor in local newspapers go a long way to recognize the support of land managers. These simple, doable contributions are a huge step toward nurturing relationships and protecting long-term access for mountain bikes.
(3) Be Open
Third, and most importantly, understand that no single group or recreational interest has a special right to use public lands as they wish. Public lands were established for all citizens, for the greater good, and therefore everyone has a right to participate in the processes established to determine how they are managed and enjoyed.
The ultimate challenge here is that all of these "doables" involve time, resources, and personal treasure. That means occasionally unclipping, putting a foot down, and becoming an active participant in advocacy and creating solutions. As a recreational community, mountain bikers are largely dependent on public lands for access to the trails we love to ride. If we all contribute just a little in a positive way, then it’s not hard or time-consuming at all. And unless we do, we will continue to lose rides and access to trails we love, like in Los Altos Hills.
Mountain bikers can take positive action by 1) joining your local IMBA chapter and 2) getting organized for advocacy. If there is no local organization, form a committee of riders to organize a group. IMBA has six Region Directors and eight Associate Region Directors that provide professional staff support to our 200+ chapters nationwide. According to Eric Melson, IMBA’s Advocacy Manager and Associate Region Director in Montana, “The only way mountain biking will ever become accepted, appreciated, and embraced is if every rider makes a conscious decision to be a respectful, engaged, and informed member of their community.”
Clearly, the mountain biking community is winning by creating, improving and enhancing access nationwide. To continue this momentum, and prevent painful losses, we must commit to being active participants shaping the future of outdoor recreation.