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Tip your hat to the trail stewards

Grassroots biking groups help sweeten the ride

You clamber off the bike, sweat-soaked, mudstreaked and ready for more.

Appreciate the ride and tip your cap to your technical prowess, but make sure you also drop a nod to the grassroots organizations that help to make that sweet ride possible.

Advocacy groups on Vancouver's North Shore and in Squamish and Whistler have been working diligently behind the scenes for decades to ensure that trail networks are properly maintained and each riding community speaks with a unified, effective voice.

The North Shore Mountain Biking Association (NSMBA) is the new kid on the block, celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2012.

It was born of strife - in the winter of 1997, wires were being strung across North Shore trails in an ill-fated attempt to drive riders out of the woods, and local bikers banded together to defend their turf.

Today, the NSMBA boasts 250 paid members and has helped the North Shore earn its sterling reputation for hosting some of the most technical, tricky riding circuits in the cycling world.

"We keep the trails safe and try to keep water off the trail using proper alignment like rock armouring, while at the same time trying to minimize our footprint in the forest," said Mathew Bond, president and acting trail director of NSMBA.

Assisting Bond and the NSMBA in its mission is an army of volunteers who participate in the organization's Trail Adoption Plan. The new initiative sees local businesses and community organizations partner with skilled trail builders in an effort to better maintain the massive network of trails that go up, over and around local mountains Fromme, Cypress and Seymour.

"We realized we can't do all this on our own," said Bond. "We put it out there in the community for the people to adopt a trail and then they have a responsibility to do a certain amount of maintenance on that trail during the year and report back on their work."

The middle child of the three local mountain bike organizations is the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association, or SORCA, which is currently marking its 20th anniversary.

What began as a tightknit, 40-person initiative in 1992 has since grown into a 500-person advocacy and stewardship collective that helps to maintain Squamish's myriad trails in regions such as Cat Lake, Valley Cliff and the Diamond Head area of Garibaldi Provincial Park, which is home to the well-travelled and wildly popular Half Nelson trail.

SORCA recently helped fund and cut the ribbon on a new trail - a sequel of sorts to Half Nelson, called, appropriately, Full Nelson. Constructed by Ted Tempany and a team of volunteers as the backdrop of a new Anthill Films production called Strength in Numbers, the trail is a one-kilometre extension of its Half Nelson forebear and is designed to accommodate all levels of gravity riders.

It's yet another link in an ever-increasing chain of trails that SORCA is committed to superintending through regular trail-maintenance events.

"We are getting more popular as a tourist destination for (trail riding) and as a result the trails are getting more wear and tear," said SORCA media director Belinda Hare, who admits that the group would be able to cover much more ground with increased funding.

"It's pretty exciting to see the Squamish trail system get bigger and better every year and as much as you want to stay 'grassroots' it can't always be that way. We're at the point now where we're definitely looking for ways to create more funding so we can keep the trails in good shape."

Further up the corridor to the north is the eldest sibling of the local cycling community - the Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA), which was founded in 1989 in an effort to keep access to Garibaldi Park trails open during the formative days of the mountain bike movement.

"In the late 1980s you could ride in Garibaldi in places like Singing Pass, Cheakamus Lake and into Elfin Lake, and then all of a sudden the park decided to ban all mountain biking," said James Brooks, WORCA president.After managing to effect some change and securing access for mountain bikers within Garibaldi's boundaries, the charter members of WORCA began looking at developing a trail network within Whistler proper.

Today, the club is one of the largest of its kind in the world, with 1,570 paid members, a six-figure budget and a well-earned legitimacy within the resort town.

"We're pretty lucky. WORCA is a very established part of the community," said Brooks, who estimates one out of every six Whistler residents is a card-carrying member of WORCA.

The organization employs a full-time trail builder during the summer months, runs an extremely successful youth riding program and is currently involved in developing alpine trails on Sprout Mountain within the next three to five years.

"We're doing pretty well up here. Everybody's very pleased with where we're at and where we're going," said Brooks.





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