By Jeanne Patterson
Partnerships are the heart and soul of trail development in the 90s. As land managers grapple with less staff and money, trail advocates need to bring their own resources to the table. Here are some suggestions for building a relationship:
1. Scope out a number of trail possibilities. Include current trails to which you don't have access as well as suitable public lands you'd like see developed. Maps can be a great resource for this.
2. Find out who manages the land at each site. For trail systems already in place, find out who the primary users are. Since dispersion should be your goal, cross off sites already experiencing heavy usage, but use this information to sell your idea on the need for more trails in the area.
3. If the sites are state or nationally managed, try to find out what positive experiences trails have generated at sites run by these agencies in other parts of your state or region.
4. Before you meet with the land manager, consider putting together an information packet containing the demographics on trail users and the positive impact mountain biking and other trail groups have made in other parts of the country. They may only be familiar with the "extreme" image of some trail activities with which the media seems so enamored. The International Mountain Bicycling Association is a great source for this type of information.
5. If the land mangers are receptive, find out what is necessary to gain approval. They may have in-house approval authority, but more than likely they'll have to clear the project with their headquarters. Also, ask who might object to this project, then try to meet with these groups to win their support. It's always a good idea to garner support from other user groups, since a coalition of trail users supporting the project will have greater influence on the approval process.
6. The beauty of natural surface trails is they can be built with very little money. Sweat equity can go a long way. If your group is willing to build and maintain the trail without negatively impacting the park managers' shrinking budget, they are going to be much more receptive. Pitch it as an enhancement at very little cost, if any, to the park. A cautionary note&emdash;it is imperative to have the support of the property's staff preferably in writing. Since this type of project should be a partnership, each party should have a clear understanding of each other's expectations and responsibilities.
7. Don't get discouraged if you don't get the site you want most first. A lesser site will give your group the opportunity to hone trail design, construction, and maintenance skills. I have been told by a number of land managers that they are a bit skittish of volunteer groups&emdash;they've been burned in the past. So it's imperative that you find a project to prove both your commitment and abilities.
8. Remind yourself often "patience is a virtue." While this process will seem tedious and frustrating at times, the rewards will be beyond your wildest expectations.
Jeanne Patterson has served since 1989 on the board of the nationally recognized trail advocacy organization, the Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association. In addition, she recently joined the board of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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