LAS VEGAS, NV (BRAIN)—IMBA gathered a group of advocacy stalwarts to speak to the threats and opportunities for mountain biking during the organization’s fourth annual breakfast yesterday.
“IMBA was born because of trails being closed—that foundation still defines IMBA. But today the relevance and opportunity is as much about new trails—keeping them open and adding to the trail system,” said Mike Van Abel, executive director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.
Van Abel cited the Spruce Knob trail as an epic ride that is under threat. “This happens to be a real threat of a closure in West Virginia and we’re on it,” said Van Abel. “We’re on the front end of the process where lands need to be protected and preserved. We’re at the table early to present mountain biking as a solution to sustainable lands.”
Van Abel said IMBA is at the forefront of addressing this threat—and 24 other priority access issues—as part of its new Public Lands Initiative. He said the tipping point for funding this initiative happened this spring at the Bicycle Leadership Conference when industry leaders rallied behind it and pledged support.
Turning to industry leaders on stage, Van Abel asked them why they helped fund the initiative to support trail access on public land.
Trek’s advocacy director Krista Rettig spoke to the real threat of trail closure she’s seen in her hometown of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. But she said she and other local advocates broke through to local government officials once they communicated with them. “It’s our responsibility to step up and educate them and keep our message out there,” Rettig said.
SRAM president Stan Day said SRAM stepped up to support the initiative because it planned to use the seed money to become self-funded. “We made the investment to be a catalyst for the program to be self-sustaining and develop local funding sources,” Day said. He added that industry support for advocates goes a long way. “The advocates on the ground are the blood and sweat that goes into this,” Day said.
Mike Sinyard, Specialized’s founder and president, said he has supported trail advocacy for selfish reasons. “We like to ride,” he said, giving a shout out to the National Interscholastic Cycling League for growing grassroots mountain biking at the high school level.
And Bikes Belong executive director Tim Blumenthal called the national lands initiative a “game changer,” noting that “places to ride close to cities are going to become more important.”
Echoing that comment, Van Abel said among the opportunities for new trail development are gateway trails near urban areas. Van Abel said IMBA is brining together community and land managers to build trails in sustainable ways.
But, he added, IMBA doesn’t have the bandwidth to build trails in every community. It needs local activism and a key piece of community development is the retailer. “We can give you models and show you how it’s done,” Van Abel said.