It has been eight months since I joined IMBA and took over the helm of the National Mountain Bike Patrol. In my attempts to steer it with a top-down approach, I realized that I can't wholly sympathize with individual issues or understand what successful patrol groups need if I never leave my office chair in the "People's Republic of Boulder." Everyone here at IMBA spends time in the dirt to gain the bottom-up perspective of their specific constituents, and I should be no different. I decided to experience first-hand what it's like to do what you do and joined my local bike patrol.
I am grateful to the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance (BMA) for accepting my application. My status as a new resident and beginner mountain biker likely meant I was the least (technically) qualified of the 26 new patrollers at last Saturday's training session, but a passion for riding, a willingness to learn and a friendly attitude were stressed as the most important capabilities.
I realized quickly what an asset the BMA Patrol is to IMBA's backyard. At times, the city of Boulder is not the most agreeable to mountain biking, but BMA and its patrol group's favorable relationships with city, county and federal land managers are helping to shine a more positive light on the mountain bikers who live and ride within city limits. The good example they set just by riding and educating our own have helped to show how viable multi-use trails can actually be.
BMA's patrol can be traced back to the 1990's, but it was in 2008 that it really began to take off after partnerships were established with three of the local land management agencies to provide services to all trail users: Boulder County Parks and Open Space, City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service Boulder Ranger District. From that point, the patrol grew to over 60 active members at its peak and will likely have 55 for the 2011 riding season.
The eight-hour training session I went through included talks from park rangers representing all three land management agencies and general guidance from the BMA Patrol leadership (a group of four). After lunch, we were joined by returning members, broke into small groups and rotated among different scenarios that might be encountered on the trail, from equestrians to bike repair to emergency situations. The day finished with a panel discussion and great interest in the upcoming patrol social at a local brewery.
The perspective I gained last Saturday and the lessons I will continue to learn as an active patroller will be applied as I try to steer the NMBP in a direction beneficial to all 50 of our current patrol groups, all 600 of our current members and anyone who wants to start a patrol. In future NMBP blog posts, expect to read my own patrol stories, conversations with BMA Patrol leadership, perspectives of the land managers we work with and the experiences of my cohorts.
But the biggest thing I took away from the day was the passion in the room and the sense of not only how much fun it can be to be a patroller, but how valuable it is, even if you never help fix a flat tire or offer up so much as a Band Aid to an injured trail user.
When asked how he would describe the patrol to an outsider, one veteran patroller and BMA's advocacy director summed it up very well: "To ensure everyone out on the trail has a smile on their face."