2016 Tahoe Trails Summit – Takeaways

Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association, the US Forest Service, Truckee Trails Foundation, Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, Scott Nichols of Ibis, Gary Sjoquist of Quality Bicycle Products, officials from South Lake Tahoe, Mammoth and elsewhere all came together on a rainy weekend at the beginning of May to talk Tahoe trails.

There was good news and bad, reason for optimism and cause for caution. Here are some of the highlights I took away.

Optimism:

  • There are tons of stats out their supporting the benefits of bike trails, from positive impacts on property values to an average of $1 spent on trails saving $3 in healthcare costs in a community. The facts are there for the argument to be made.
  • People are putting their time and money where their tires are: Kevin Joell, trails director for TAMBA, counted almost 4,000 hours of volunteer trail work in 2015.
  • Sales taxes to support trails are popping up and proving effective in places like Truckee and Mammoth Lakes.
  • NICA: Sjoquist is at the helm of a Nevada high school mountain bike league that not only represents a future generation of mountain bikers, but also brings their parents into the sport, and requires trail building and maintenance as part of team activities.
  • The undeniable force of the outdoor industry: Netting $650 billion a year (26 billion for mountain biking alone) with 6.1 million jobs; a unified voice from outdoor recreation is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Tourism done right: The Wall Street Journal declared cyclists the new golfers in terms of tourism spending, and to those saying #dontmoabtahoe, Nichols pointed to the iconic southwest mountain biking destination as a model. “They have 700,000-800,000 mountain bike user days a year, and it doesn’t feel crowded out on the trails,” he said.

Caution:

  • An image crisis. Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Trails Engineer Jacob Quinn described a scene we’ve all watched on Youtube or Pinkbike of a slowmo rider drifting (skidding, in reality) through a turn, spraying up dirt and said it makes him cringe, and should make anybody who’s volunteered on trails cringe. It’s hard to convince land managers people like that should be allowed into wilderness.
  • Localism: Being a territorial jerk while living in a tourist destination isn’t an indicator of high IQ. You can be an ambassador for the trails and be more effective in protecting what you love. “I’ve seen more than a little resentment about change and more people on your trails,” Sjoquist said. “If you’re not happy because trails aren’t the way they used to be, get over it.” I’m looking at you #dontmoabtahoe hashtaggers.
  • “User conflict boils down to people choosing not to get along with someone else on the trail,” said Garret Villanueva with the Forest Service.
  • Less than 10 percent of Americans are visiting National Forest Lands. So why should they care about it?
  • TAMBA, a powerhouse for good trail stewardship and advocacy inside the Basin (and out) is fragile. One or two key volunteers burn out and we’re back to square one.

These are just a few of the points that I took away from the two-day event. What’s clear is there are many passionate people taking the sport in a positive direction. What isn’t clear is if a few bad apples will pull it in another.

Mountain Biking – A Different Kind of a Love Story

I wasn’t an athlete growing up. Sure, I played little league baseball and soccer, but I wasn’t anybody’s first pick. Or fifth. Skiing had clicked at a young age, but we went on family trips to Badger Pass, a small hill in Yosemite, once a year.

My first sport – a sport I was passionate about and worked for – came down an unlikely path. In the form of unpaid child labor.

Continue reading