Ride Vibes: Wheeling and Able
At 10,679 feet, the Sandia Crest is the highpoint of the Sandia-Manzano Mountains, the most visited peaks in New Mexico. The crest boasts of stunning views and, on its east slope, downhill mountain bike trails.
Last month, the Albuquerque Mountain Bike Association (AMBA) was awarded $99,999 to improve downhill trails on the east side of the Sandia Crest. The IMBA Local Chapter was one of 20 recipients of the Outdoor Recreation Trails+ grant by the New Mexico Economic Development Department’s Outdoor Recreation Division. The total grants awarded equaled an investment of over $2 million for outdoor infrastructure.
Improving trail experiences for all
The Sandia Trails Improvement Project will build upon and improve existing downhill mountain bike trails on the east side of the Sandia Crest. The improved trails will benefit mountain bikers of various skill levels looking for downhill riding experiences within 60 miles of Albuquerque. Each of the trails will offer a range of intermediate to advanced features (jumps, rock rolls, rock gardens, etc.) with ride-arounds to encourage progression.
This project also aims to minimize collisions among all users across trail systems, particularly in the heavily-trafficked Sandia foothills, by creating unidirectional trails and appropriate signage. The need for unidirectional trails is acute in this trail system, as the proposed trails will offer descents of over 1,000 feet per mile.
Development of this trail system will enable high-speed riders to avoid multi-use trails and improve general public safety, while also providing a venue for the community to host downhill and enduro events and races.
AMBA, in collaboration with the Sandia Ranger District of the Cibola National Forest, applied for the Outdoor Recreation Trails+ grant for the Sandia Trails Improvement Project. The scalable project was scoped and approved by the Forest Service in April 2021 but requires supporting labor and funding from the mountain biking community and collaborating organizations.
Finding the funding
Diversifying funding sources can better support your organization’s mission. Since I joined the AMBA board just over a year ago, the organization has successfully acquired Dig In funding as well as the Trails+ grant, which have allowed us to exceed $100,000 in grants.
Alternative sponsorship recruitment and program revamping are also underway to further engage our local and regional business community in mountain bike-related activities and general trail maintenance for all users. The program we have in place enables individuals and organizations to support AMBA at Green, Blue, Black Diamond, and Double Black Diamond levels–each offering their own degrees of involvement.
Aside from general fundraising for AMBA, the collected donations–whether cash, in-kind, or volunteer time–may also be used to match funds from various grants. For instance, the Outdoor Recreation Trails+ grant requires a 1:1 match, and AMBA will need to provide evidence that the $99,999 match has been met after two years.
Relationships are resources too
Building relationships with land managers has been a huge component of bringing this project to fruition. For instance, the Sandia Trails Improvement Project has finally enabled the current Forest Ranger and Managers to make trail development a possibility.
Since moving to Albuquerque only four years ago and joining the AMBA Board, my partner, Jeremy Peterson, and I have begun to make headway in enhancing the local trail systems with Dig Days and other volunteer opportunities in conjunction with the local forest managers. Luckily, both of our USFS contacts are mountain bikers and enjoy tackling challenging trails just as much as the next rider!
Outside of the USFS, I have coworkers who work closely with local economic development initiatives in New Mexico and more specifically the University of New Mexico. With those relationships, I keep a close eye on any and all opportunities that may arise in terms of grants or other resources related to the outdoor recreation industry.
Our Trails+ grant proposal was drastically enhanced by the local support of the mountain biking community. We received verbal support from local bike shops, while also receiving letters of support from companies like Green Side Café and Elevate PHW, which have close ties to or are AMBA members.
Raising funds means raising your profile
Receiving the Outdoor Recreation Trails+ grant helped to not only raise funds but also raise the profile of AMBA. Grant awardees were featured in local news broadcasts and press releases.
Due to this increased visibility, AMBA has been contacted by several individuals, and we hope to gain more traction from our social media posts. We also hope the awareness of AMBA brought about by this grant award, trail building days, and signage will increase membership and support needed for additional trail work and grants in the future.
Looking to secure a grant for your local trails? Here are some things that helped us with our grant application:
- Build relationships with land managers where a trail system exists or may be introduced.
- Understand who your audience or review committee consists of. Opportunities for general outdoor recreation will require a different proposal than one for the mountain bike community.
- Different grants will have different requirements outlined in their requests for proposals (RFP). Be sure you address all points and concerns in the RFP.
- Explore local resources for grant writing assistance. Some local entrepreneurial programs through community colleges, universities, venture capitalist groups, etc. offer mentor programs for grant writing.
- Find those interested in grant writing within your biking community and recruit them to join your efforts.
- Start early and recruit other organization members, with or without grants experience, to be involved in the project to review and provide feedback.
- Reach out to local organizations for letters of support! Letters go a long way with a review committee–they show support is present and that a wide audience will be positively impacted by the outcome of the project.