Sometimes, mountain bikers have to trade their shorts for suits to make significant progress. It’s all part of the process to get more trails on the ground, care for the trails we have and protect our valuable public lands.
The first-ever California Mountain Bike Lobby Day in May 2017 came together under that need. A light bulb had gone off for Laurel Harkness, IMBA’s region director for California, earlier in the year. Through her relationships with state-level elected officials, land management agencies and lobbyists, she realized the time was right to rally California’s mountain bike leaders to speak up for specific issues affecting the state’s entire mountain biking community.
California is a particularly large, diverse place and Laurel wanted to step back and look at the big picture of what affects all mountain bikers in her home state. She cast a wide net to bring people in from all corners and communities. “Most California legislators are from city centers and know very little about mountain biking or how valuable it is. They need to hear from us,” she said.
IMBA and Laurel’s primary objective was to get people to rally around common goals, so several issues were addressed. There is currently a proposal to create a state office of outdoor recreation, which would help pull things like natural-surface trails out from under the tourism department, where they are currently housed and chronically underfunded. The mountain bikers also showed up to support greater funding for parks, trails and outdoor recreation infrastructure, as well as a joint assembly resolution that would push back against the attempt to shrink or eliminate some of the state’s national monuments (which allow mountain biking).
“It was an excellent exercise in being able to recognize that we can all work together in a very tangible way,” Laurel said “And, it was super empowering for the folks there to realize that mountain bikers should be lobbying for our own issues [at the state level] because we’re a large-enough and important-enough group.”
The 14 mountain bikers who were able to attend from Mt. Shasta to San Diego, from IMBA chapters to other trail advocacy groups to NICA (high school racing), filled up rooms throughout the day. They offered expert testimony. They started building valuable relationships. When it was over, they had attended meetings with seven assembly members, five senators, countless staffers, California State Parks and the California State Director for the Bureau of Land Management.
“We could see and feel that we were making an impact,” said Laurel. “Now, there are 14 super-effective folks who have gained this incredible experience. I can graduate them to ‘hot shot’ teams of advocates to target committees on specific issues for mountain bikers.”
What was learned in California has universal application: State legislators want to know what’s going on in their home districts. But, they also need to understand what mountain biking opportunities can do for communities beyond just fun. Positive, tangible impacts are what matter to legislators.
“I want to help more mountain bikers demystify the legislative process and create relationships with elected officials at the local level. It’s time for mountain bikers to know that they’re important enough to do this kind of advocacy work,” said Laurel. “When we look at the economic impacts of the outdoor recreation economy, the positive health impacts of trails and how mountain biking can be part of beneficial youth programs, we know we’re valuable in California [and everywhere else].”
Planning is already underway for a day to visit state land management agency headquarters, also in Sacramento, and for a 2018 mountain bike lobby day. IMBA’s goal is to be able to offer scholarships to cover some of the travel costs that smaller groups can’t manage and to include student athletes from the California NICA leagues.
Ready to help efforts like these? Join your local California IMBA chapter to support this kind of important, ongoing and high-level advocacy work! (Not in California? This stuff is happening nationwide and you can support it!) These kinds of professional efforts are critical to laying the foundation needed before any actual new trails can be built. These efforts are also critical to protecting our public lands.
JOIN TODAY to be entered to win a new Yeti mountain bike! More importantly, your joint IMBA-chapter membership will support both local efforts and the efforts of IMBA’s professional advocates to support the work chapters are doing on your local trails in your backyard. Thank you!
Thank you to everyone who attended this lobby day!
Laurel Harkness: IMBA California Region Director
Carolyn Thompson: Friends of Stafford Lake Bike Park
Matt Wetter: President of FATRAC, an IMBA chapter
James Clark: IMBA Vice President of Field Operations
Connor Culhane: Concerned Central Coast Mountain Bikers, and IMBA chapter
Austin McInerny: Executive Director of NICA
Susie Murphy: Executive Director of San Diego Mountain Biking Association, an IMBA chapter
Izzy Phraner: NICA NorCal alum, Teen Trail Corp, IMBA World Summit speaker
Jeff Barker: Cycle Development, STC board member
Tom Boss: Marin County Bicycle Coalition
Jake Bayless: Redwood Empire Mountain Bike Alliance
Matthew Blain: San Francisco Urban Riders
Grant Parker: Exchequer Bike Park (Bell Built grant finalist)
Mark Pecotich: Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship