What is “Trail Labs”?
This year’s National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) National Conference took place in Philadelphia, PA, convening leadership, coach educators, influencers and supporters of the national youth mountain biking movement. In addition to keynote and guest speakers, training sessions, and panel discussions the conference included several meals and opportunities for rides, walks, and hikes.
The event featured educational tracks focused on leadership, coaching and event production. There were plenty of opportunities for the NICA community, youth development, cycling and nonprofit orgs to connect and share experiences.
Some of the speakers included Earl B. Hunter, Jr., Black Folks Camp Too, John Burke, Trek Bicycle, and Elizabeth Allen, MA, Valley Youth House -- just a few of the numerous personalities and organizations that participated in the multi-day event.
Members of the IMBA Trail Solutions team were invited to present, joining a panel discussion and leading focused workshops. When I heard that colleagues from across the country would be visiting the east coast, I had to take the opportunity to join them in Philly for one of the days of the conference.
Kicking off the Friday agenda with a panel discussion on trail advocacy and partnerships, IMBA Trail Solutions Community Engagement Specialist Chris Orr joined several others to discuss how an organization can plan and advocate for sustainable trail growth. Naturally, the discussion focused on trail/venue access and stewardship of these critical resources. Chris established the importance of putting in the work to create a solid plan before requesting land access, to build trust and make a positive impression on land managers.
Andy Williamson of WVU Outdoor Economic Development Collaboration emphasized the use of data insights to guide analysis and support recommendations for amenities that will best serve your community. By a show of hands, around half of the attendees are tracking efforts and collecting data, e.g. how much time NICA students are putting into trail work.
Leading the next session of the leadership & event production track, IMBA Trail Solutions Director of Planning and Design Mike Repyak and Chris Orr took guests through the steps to develop high-quality community trail experiences. Describing the session as an intro to IMBA Foundations, Mike and Chris discussed how to build the dream team of individuals that will make more and better trails possible in your community (hint: find your local trail champion). They went through the phases, from planning to design and on to building and running trails with access and inclusion of everyone in the community in mind.
Following a lunch break, Chris and Mike shared a case study on community trails, focusing on the McClellan Trails in Anniston, AL. The discussion served as a practical look at the principles discussed earlier in the day, taking attendees from trail vision to fruition and allowing for a solid Q&A session.
Following each day’s sessions, attendees sampled the local trails at Wissahickon Valley Park and Fairmount Park’s Belmont Plateau Trails.
No surprise: meeting attendees and presenters were positive about the future of trails and supportive of one another in their efforts to grow mountain biking within their respective communities. It seemed that the connections made between sessions, over meals and during rides were the sort of strong bonds necessary to keep growing our sport for the next generation!