Partnerships Continue to Accelerate Trails in Chattanooga
No two trail champions are alike. Each brings unique skills and all require different resources and tools to see trail projects through. What trail champions do share is a holistic trail vision to accelerate the momentum of trail development that will grow mountain biking in their community. These leaders are civically engaged professionals who wield their superpowers for trails—a combination of infectious inspiration, influence, tenacity and individual strengths. IMBA is celebrating these trail champions through a Q & A style blog series. These local leaders have been nominated by members of their communities and have agreed to share insights into their success.
Name: Matt Block
IMBA Local Chapter: Central Wisconsin Off-Road Cycling Coalition
From the nominator: Matt was an inaugural member of CWOCC's Board of Directors in 2012 and continues to serve in that role with a focus on trail development. Matt's role is usually out of the public eye working with land managers advocating for trail access and presenting ideas for trail design. He spends countless hours studying topo maps and walking public lands in search of trail options to build a better mountain bike community. His concept designs along with his engagement with IMBA Trail Solutions have resulted in significant improvements to Nine Mile County Forest and the addition of Sylvan Hill Mountain Bike Park and Ringle Trails. As CWOCC celebrates 10 years as an IMBA Chapter in 2022 we've grown to nearly 70 miles of trail over 6 trailheads. This growth could not happen without Matt's dedication and passion for the sport and his community.
IMBA: Tell us about yourself - why do you love mountain biking?
I grew up in rural Central Wisconsin and pretty much lived on my bike until I was old enough to drive. Whether it was riding gravel roads to friends' houses or bombing my dad's tractor trail downhill into the woods on department store BMX bikes. Later on, I discovered all of the glorious singletrack weaving in and out of the Nine Mile County forest nordic ski trails I grew up skiing on and I was hooked. For me, there are a lot of reasons to love the sport of mountain biking. The challenge, the rush, or simply just being in the woods enjoying the outdoors.
IMBA: What partnerships have been the most successful for you in creating more trails near you?
We don't have a lot of state or federal public land in our area so all of our success so far has been with Marathon County Park & Forestry Department and some parks in local municipalities. One of our best and most interesting partnerships has been with Marathon County Solid Waste Department who has been incredibly supportive as we developed 10 miles of modern flow trail in the wooded space surrounding the county landfill near Ringle, WI. On the funding side, our local community foundation, Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin, has been critical in helping us find funding for our projects as well as generous local business donors financially supporting our IMBA chapter.
IMBA: What advice would you give to communities that want to see more trails near them?
Get organized as a club or IMBA Local Chapter and be professional about it as that makes a big impression on land managers, foundations, or business sponsors for your organization. Make sure you have 501(c)3 status for fundraising and build a plan for what you want to see happen. If you don't have the resources within your organization for planning then hire a professional planner. Groups like IMBA Trail Solutions have a ton of experience and can help identify the best places to target for bike parks or larger trail systems. Most of all be patient, working with local government almost always takes longer than you would like. Be persistent and be willing to stay the course to see your projects succeed.
IMBA: What resources have you found most helpful in guiding the trail vision you have for your community?
10 years ago when CWOCC was established as an IMBA Local Chapter our regional director, Hansi Johnson, had a lot of influence in our vision for creating a riding destination. We weren't thinking that big initially and Hansi was able to persuade us to think outside the box. He also had a great vision for uniting many of the regional chapters to collaborate and share ideas and experiences. That was really valuable and helped us connect with other chapters that were further along in executing their plans and we were able to learn a lot from their hard work. Reaching out to other clubs/chapters in your region can be a great resource.
IMBA: There is often trepidation around trails. How have you energized your community around a vision for more trails?
A lot of education on what our sport really is about goes a long way. As avid mountain bikers we assume that everyone knows what mountain biking is or that your local government/municipal leaders will understand what mountain bike trails are really about. In my experience, that isn't the case so educating them on what makes a great trail experience or what a bike park is will go a long way in advancing your plan. There is a big difference between just recreational trails and really well-developed bike-specific trails.
IMBA: People forget that trails don’t just fall from the sky. What support do you wish you had when you were starting this work?
There definitely are no trail fairies. We have always had a great core group of volunteers willing to put in the hard work to get things accomplished. While there has always been support from some of our municipalities (we have seven different municipalities in our immediate metro area) CWOCC has handled the lion's share of work (design, fundraising, maintenance, etc.) which has been substantial for an all-volunteer organization.
IMBA: We know that Trail Champions don’t work alone. Who’s on your team for more trails?
Early on Bill Duncanson, now retired Director Wausau/Marathon County Park, Recreation & Forestry, was probably our biggest supporter in terms of getting our plan and message out to city and county leaders and helped usher in our first big successful project with Sylvan Hill Bike Park.
With our Ringle Trail system Meleesa Johnson, Dave Hagenbucher and Eric Olson with the Marathon County Solid Waste Dept have been great partners.
For funding, Jean Tehan (retired) and Sue Nelson at the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin have been critical in our success with grant funding. On the club operation side, we have an active working board of directors. The current president, Aaron Ruff, is our chief grant writer, Jahn Martin has run our very successful business donor program and been involved with organizing chapter events. Gary Barden, a founding CWOCC board member, is a talented graphic designer and photographer who handles our promotional material and has designed all of our trail signage. Randy Lackman has been our treasurer for many years and Nick Wierzba started off as a volunteer equipment operator and eventually started his own trail contracting business, Epic Trails LLC. We continue to hire Nick but he still volunteers to help with winter grooming and CWOCC equipment maintenance.
The rest of our active board members (John Lauer, Meg Wry, Rebecca Tuley, Jake Prunske, Kris Theile, Andy Lynch and longtime trail bosses, Chad Page, Shane Stuard, Chris Schotz are all critical to keeping CWOCC running and connected in the community. The list can go on and on.