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Class is now in session

IMBA Trail Labs schools city leaders and land managers on how to turn MTB trail visions into realities

By: chris.schieffer
Posted: August 20, 2018

When you think of communities that have distinct identities, what cities come to mind? Perhaps Nashville and country music; Paris and high fashion; Telluride and skiing. What’s the identity for your hometown? What could it be? 

More than ever, communities are embracing outdoor recreation and mountain biking as their identities, including all 39 IMBA Ride Centers and countless others, from the small town of Caliente, NV, to Louisville, KY (a metro area of more than 1 million people). 

We now know that outdoor recreation—and bicycle infrastructure, specifically—is a significant economic driver for communities. If you don’t believe us, check out just a few of the studies that have been done recently:

Having an abundance of natural-surface trails close to city centers enables more destination tourism and spending with local businesses, and entices more people to move into those areas, stimulating the economy and improving quality of life. And, they're awesome. 

Outdoor recreation is booming. Grab a slice of the pie for your community. 

There are several options for creating trail networks in your town, whether you already have a master plan or have no idea where to start. One of the best, new ways to move toward becoming an outdoor recreation community is to attend an IMBA Trail Lab. 

IMBA Trail Labs are two-day intensive workshops during which IMBA staff and trail industry experts lead participants through the recipe for a model community trail system: planning, design, building, activation, promotion and measuring success. And because Trail Labs are hosted in great places to ride, attendees get a firsthand look at the components of an intentional and diverse mountain bike trails community. 

Trail Labs are a significant step and a key turning point in IMBA’s new strategic direction: creating and catalyzing more trails close to home. We know that integrated, community-based trail systems provide major benefits to individuals and businesses. We also know that the majority of mountain bikers spend the majority of their time riding trails that are 10 miles or less from their homes. And the mountain bike-curious are much more empowered to sample two wheels on dirt for themselves and with their families when the access doesn’t require a long drive—or any drive at all. 

Raise your hand if you like being able to ride to the ride. We love it, too. 

IMBA wants more trails communities nationwide, and this is just one way our professional trail educators, planners and builders are going to help make that happen. Trail Labs are specifically designed for land managers, community officials, recreation professionals and tourism/economic development staff at any stage in the process. This is how we work from the top—providing the high-level education and resourcing necessary to ensure that city leaders are on the same page as local mountain bikers and ready to take on trail projects. Creating great places to ride is about so much more than moving dirt. 

Our first Trail Labs took place in June 2018. Here’s what some of the 40 attendees from across the U.S. had to say: 

“Loved it! It was great to learn there’s more to building a network of trails than the physical aspect of building. Trail Labs helped me realize what’s possible in a community.”

“As a community leader, it helped me see the value and the path to bringing a cycling culture to my town.” 

“Before Trail Labs, I’d never considered activation and promotion an integral part of establishing a trail network.”

Register Now for IMBA’s next Trail Labs, October 23-25, 2019, in Bentonville, AR. Space is limited to the first 40 registrants. We kindly request that you send no more than two people from your community so we may welcome representatives from all across the U.S. 

Not a community official? Encourage your local city leaders to attend. You can still make significant steps toward becoming a mountain biking community.

  • Some trail networks may already exist as hiking or horse trails, and local land managers might simply need education to allow for mountain bike access on those very same trails. Work to garner widespread and diverse community support from local land managers, city officials, tourism bureaus, parks and recreation departments and local business.
  • Prove to your community how economically beneficial a network of trails is. Provide concrete evidence supporting outdoor recreation as beneficial to mental wellness, lowered health care costs, getting and keeping kids active, supporting local businesses and strengthening family cohesiveness.

  • Collect local volunteers, trail stewards and passionate outdoorsmen to champion mountain bike access, apply for grants and raise money to start the plan and design process necessary to get our community on the road to building a sustainable trail network in your town. 

And, as always, support your local mountain biking organization. 

About the author

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Chris worked with IMBA from 2016-2018.

Chris worked with IMBA from 2016-2018.

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