NEMBA Trail School

NEMBA’s Trail Building course was held this past weekend on May 18th and 19th in Charlemont, Massachusetts.  A couple of friends and I signed up for the class earlier in the year, not really knowing what to expect, but excited about the prospects of learning more about trail design and getting our hands dirty.

According to some of NEMBA’s bylaws, “The New England Mountain Bike Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable trail access for mountain bicyclists, and to maintaining the trails on which mountain bikers ride. NEMBA supports the conservation of open spaces and is committed to educating mountain bicyclists to ride sensitively and responsibly in order to protect the natural environment and the experience of other trail users.”

This statement among many other sustainable guidelines were presented to our class of nearly 30 during the first day of Trail Building school. NEMBA’s mindful message of compassion and communication with all trail users and making sustainable trails was explicit. It laid the foundation for how we would work on our own trail over the weekend. NEMBA is about creating a community.

Out in the field, we were working on the Charlemont trail system, which had already been dug out the year before by a non- NEMBA affiliated group. We were there to correct some of the damage done to the trails, and try to reroute a few to make them more rideable. It turns out, that while a lot of trail building is extremely labor intensive, it is also a lot of standing around and talking about where the trail should go and why. We spent time debating about where water would or would not collect or how to prevent it from doing so, a huge concern when designing. How do we connect the trail we are working on to an existing one? What is the gradient of your trail, and is it within standards?

We learned about benching, the technique used to cut trails into slopes that makes trails sturdy and practiced it during our course work. We moved boulders that took four people to budge to create a rock feature that was far better than the existing one. We built boardwalks, but also learned that you cannot cut wood while out on the trail system and that the logistical hardships of getting your timber into the woods and leaving no trace of your recent build work. Lectures were given by trail managers and NEMBA members who had been building for over a decade.

As I am hiking up a steep, overgrown hill in the woods at 9am on a Sunday, struggling to carry a plank of wood, breathing deep, calves burning, abs engaged I appreciate more than ever the trails I ride on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. The volunteer hours that go into design and construction for multi-use, sustainable trails is astounding and the passion of NEMBA members is unyielding. The camaraderie amongst mountain bikers was refreshing and an unexpected part of taking this course. As we gathered for a ride, or around our nightly camp fire you saw tired faces, but all were smiling and talking excitedly about the ways we wanted to improve our own trail systems back home.

Check out more ways you can help NEMBA, or even take one of their Trail Building courses they offer later this summer by visiting the NEMBA website:

Photos by Philip Keyes