The paradigm for the local mountain bike club generally follows a time-honored tradition. Mountain bikers turn diggers turn advocates when they get together over beverages and BBQs and decide to collaborate on asking for and building more trails. In many locations, particularly those with very large volunteer corps to call on, that process works.
But is it the only way?
A couple of years ago, a group of mountain bikers in Dubuque, Iowa, upended this method when they formed TMBR (Tri-State Mountain Bike Riders). Local riders had been seeking ways to create great places to ride for many years and needed an organized way to do it.
TMBR was formed to focus on getting new trails in its community, but its founders recognized that actual trailbuilding wasn't their expertise, and that small groups of volunteers take a long time to build trails, so they simply decided not to focus on trailbuilding.
And yet, some of the new trails it wanted are already on the ground. How did it happen?
Shortly after it got together, TMBR approached IMBA to become a from-scratch chapter. The IMBA region director, Michelle Barker, worked with the new board of directors on best practices--coaching them on how to build a nonprofit from the ground up and fundraise. The group decided it would focus on what its leaders knew how to do best: build partnerships, tell stories and raise money. Lots and lots of money.
TMBR wasted no time setting goals and presenting a large slate of ideas to local land managers just to see what might work. It also partnered with LAMBA, a nearby IMBA chapter, to use its 501(c)3 nonprofit status umbrella for the purpose of applying for grants and building a local corporate partner program.
TMBR started small, going after any and all grant opportunities it could get its hands on. A few thousand dollars here and there added up quickly and it wasn't long before TMBR had enough money to pay for a professional trail plan in a small municipal park property where it wanted to offer beginner-friendly trails and flow trails. The trail plan served as a sales document, allowing for even more fundraising.
The trail projects are already on the ground, with just over one year from concept to completion. Volunteers helped clear the trail corridor and will do some maintenance in the future, but TMBR hired professionals to build the new trails quickly, consistently and sustainably. The professional trail construction also reduced the risk and liability element that volunteer digging can introduce, a potential roadblock for land managers.
TMBR’s professional fundraising, partner-making and marketing approach recently led to it being awarded an $80,000 grant for the next phase of its trail project. In partnership with Dubuque County Conservation, TMBR has contracted for a new set of trails on county land, aiming for completions by a professional trail builder in fall of 2017.
"This is a great model for the community," said Michelle. "TMBR is coming in as a critical funder that is able to provide dollars that the parks don't already have. And they're creating very valuable relationships that will get things done."
The individual mountain biker experience will always be at the core of what we do as advocates. Even if you're not directly digging, there are still multiple ways to affect the flavor of the trails built in you community.
While this fundraising-first model doesn't work for every group, it's an option for the future. Pro trail design and construction can significantly speed up the process, help groups raise even more funds, reduce land manager concerns, free up volunteers for maintenance and community outreach, and provide a consistent trail experience.
We wish TMBR luck, can't wait to ride their new trails and will continue to advise and help where we can. Like this stuff? It's what IMBA chapters do! Join yours today!
Please support this kind of work! WHEN YOU JOIN IN JUNE, you’ll 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!