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Breaking Tread: Paving the Way for Inclusive Trail Stewardship (Part I)

Breaking Tread: Paving the Way for Inclusive Trail Stewardship (Part I)

How Local Organizations in the Angeles National Forest are Expanding their Volunteer Base

Posted: April 24, 2023
A sunset over Los Angeles taken from the Angeles National Forest highway.
Photo courtesy of: Liz Chrisman

A repeat of the Angeles National Forest Trail Stewardship Summit has been a long time coming, according to Mount Wilson Bicycling Association (MWBA) President Jay Marion. “We've had one earmarked for a few years now, and through lots of global challenges, we've been unable to host this next iteration.” -- until this year.

As Jay looked across the classroom on day one of the February 2023 summit, he asked how many of those present attended the 2018 event. A third of the hands raised. “Do you remember the large rolling grade reversals that we put into the Sunset Ridge Trail?” he asked. They’re still there five years later. “MWBA had a public trail work day in January [2023] at Sunset Ridge Trail. The section that was worked on in 2018 needed nearly no attention after the nearly nine atmospheric rivers we’ve had in this region. These techniques work in the Angeles,” he added. Sunset Ridge, to give context, is a trail that receives substantial multi-use traffic on the weekends.

A classroom session during the 2018 summit.

Rewind to Five Years Ago

A field workshop during the 2018 summit lead by United States Forest Service Trail & Travel Management Program Manager Garrett Villanueva and IMBA Trail Solutions Chris Orr. Photo courtesy MWBA.

In April 2018, the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association (MWBA) and the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA) organized the summit led by United States Forest Service Trail & Travel Management Program Manager Garrett Villanueva and IMBA Trail Solutions Community Engagement Specialist Chris Orr. Mountain bike stewards were the primary focus of the training over this four-day summit. One of the organizers and field day instructors during the 2018 event was Steve Messer, President of CORBA. “We spent quite a bit of time on the administrative side of things. Things like Forest Service policy and paperwork.”

Trail stewards building a knick at Sunset Ridge Trail. Photo courtesy of MWBA.
Chris Orr leading a safety talk during the 2018 summit. Photo courtesy MWBA.

Though the 2018 event was twice as long as the February event, more hands-on knowledge was imparted to participants in February. “This time around, we received more on-the-ground training and how to make trails better and remedy problem trails,” explained Steve. The groups were hungry for more hands-on training to get them in the field and do what they knew was necessary.

The Evolution of Trail Stewardship in Los Angeles

Day one was spent in the classroom learning about U.S. Forest Service guidelines for trail maintenance.

In February 2023, IMBA was welcomed back to the Angeles National Forest by the U.S. Forest Service and MWBA. Multiple trail users came together for a two-day training to learn the skills necessary to maintain the trails they work and play on within the front country and backcountry of the forest, just north of Los Angeles, California.

Some members of MWBA who attended the 2018 event served as leaders/instructors during February’s field portion. Some former leaders of MWBA now make up the board of the LoweLifes Respectable Citizens Club, a stewardship group formed in 2019 composed of mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners.

If you’re keeping track, that’s three trail stewardship groups (MWBA, CORBA, LoweLifesRCC) dedicated to the multi-use trails in the Angeles region. “Particularly in the Angeles, there's just so much terrain to cover,” remarked Jay. Rugged terrain at that - think 5000’ foot climbs and descents as the norm. The forming of LoweLifes RCC in 2019 allowed for a natural distribution of stewardship responsibilities. MWBA was formed in 1986 to care for the front country area trails near Mt. Wilson and continues to steward the trails in the front country. LoweLifes RCC was formed out of necessity to care for the backcountry trails of the Angeles National Forest and includes mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners. Read more about their history and formation. CORBA has stewarded trail throughout Los Angeles and into southern Ventura County since 1987 and was one of the organizations that founded IMBA in 1988.

U.S. Forest Service Trail & Travel Management Program Manager Garrett Villanueva leads the participants through instruction. 
A participant looks through a clinometer during the field day portion of the workshop.

Even with three trail stewardship groups, volunteers are stretched thin to maintain the hundreds of miles weaving throughout rugged terrain. “All of the trails in the Angeles are multi-use: equestrian use, hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers. Cyclists have access to most of the trail; nearly every trail except trails in wilderness zones and the Pacific Crest Trail are open to bicycles,” explained Jay.

U.S. Forest Service Public Services Staff Officer Justin Seastrand, IMBA Trail Solutions Joey Klein and two summit participants assess their designated section of trail.

Although many participants were all mountain bike focused in 2018, the nearly 50 attendees at February’s summit included mountain bikers, U.S. Forest Service employees, firefighters, hikers, pack mule operators, and everything in between. The one aspect they all had in common was the vested interest in the health of the legacy trails that this 700,000-acre forest is home to. Some had never held a clinometer, McLeod, or pulaski before. Others remembered the basics of trail triage from the 2018 event and were happy to participate as group leaders during the fieldwork portion.

Garrett Villanueva works with participants to develop their "trail eyes" to spot areas that could use some trail triage.

2023 Summit Reactions & Expectations

Like in 2018, during February’s summit, Garrett and Chris led the classroom instruction and the field day. New to the mix was IMBA’s longest-tenured employee, Joey Klein, who also proved crucial to the field day portion of the workshop.

Stay tuned for part II, where we’ll go into more detail on the nuts and bolts of what was learned, the reactions, and some more shots from the field of the summit.

About the author
Liz Chrisman portrait

Liz (she/her) grew up pedaling a garage sale 10-speed on the dirt roads of the Arkansas River Valley and on tarmac throughout college. While finishing her master's program, a coworker handed her a rigid Gary Fisher, drove into the Ouachitas and they conquered mileage on the IMBA EPIC Womble…

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