Green Trails, Greenways, and an Ecosystem of Trails
38,452 hours. That’s how much time 4,386 student-athletes and 2,175 coaches from the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) put into local trail advocacy in 2021. Since NICA started tracking service hours in 2019, volunteers have clocked in 91,438 service hours. Through the Teen Trail Corps program, NICA is introducing their student-athletes to the world of MTB advocacy and creating a culture of service with the NICA community.
The mountain biking community has felt a responsibility towards trails, and Teen Trail Corps is the NICA program to introduce student-athletes to that culture of service. As leagues across NICA continue to grow, NICA teams become more visible users of trail systems. Through service, NICA teams have an opportunity to showcase their commitment to trails and develop a good reputation within the local trail community.
Teen Trail Corps also opens up land steward relationships and provides a pathway for leagues to work with land managers in developing new locations for team practice and potential event venues. Importantly, Teen Trail Corps is another non-competition focused way for student-athletes to develop a passion in mountain biking.
The world of MTB advocacy
With the mission of introducing student-athletes to the world of advocacy, Teen Trail Corps is not just about digging in the dirt and spending time maintaining trails. Student-athletes all over the country have also been writing letters to land managers, attending and speaking at public meetings, meeting with elected officials, developing relationships with local trail groups, and connecting with other user groups.
In Cherry Valley, California, Bogart Park was facing major budget issues and conflicts between various user groups, and the county was discussing closing or dramatically limiting access to the park. This prompted the Beaumont High School Mountain Bike Team, of the SoCal Interscholastic Cycling League, to do something about it.
The Beaumont student-athletes started attending public meetings, writing letters to the county board, developing relationships with the other user groups, and raised money to help support the park. They also hosted volunteer maintenance days taking care of not just the trails, but other park facilities as well. Their annual Trail Etiquette Day helped develop lasting relationships between all park user groups. These advocacy efforts were recognized through a merit award at the 2019 California Trails and Greenways Conference.
Nathalie in SoCal, said of her experience with Teen Trail Corps, “There are so many ways to preserve trail access and to promote trail sustainability in our surrounding areas. No action is too small to make a lasting impact on the trail systems around us.”
Growing the league and growing the community
Teen Trail Corps is also a great avenue for student-athletes to address league and team growth issues. As leagues, teams, and the sport grow, the demand for trails goes up as well.
The Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League (MICL) recognized a need for a new venue and had the perfect state park in mind. Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) had both the trails for a great race venue, plus parking and facilities for a large event. However, there was a problem–these great trails and great facilities were in separate areas of the park.
MICL student-athletes worked with the Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park and park rangers to come up with a plan for new trail development. Through workdays organized by the Friends of PVSP, MICL student-athletes and coaches helped hand build one mile of key trail connection. With support from REI and the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, professional builder Greenstone Trailcraft completed another mile through terrain that was too steep and rocky to hand build efficiently.
Eleven official workdays and hundreds of volunteer hours later, a ribbon cutting ceremony officially opened the School’s Out trail just weeks before holding the final MICL 2021 race there. The new venue was widely praised as the best MD venue yet.
Dave Ferraro, President of the Friends of PVSP, said, “The overwhelming support for youth cycling and inclusive trail experiences have set a new standard for volunteerism and community investment. We are proud to play a small part in the development of a young, diverse group of stewardship that will author the next chapter for Patapsco Valley State Park.”
NICA and you
For IMBA Local organizations, NICA’s Teen Trail Corps provides a huge opportunity to connect with local youth riders. If your local NICA team hasn’t reached out, let them know you're available to help guide their Teen Trail Corps activities. You can find your local team contact on the league website.
NICA dreams that one day, whenever a group of adults are gathered around a table to discuss trail plans concerning some park or the other, at least one of those adults had gone through Teen Trail Corps as a youth. Youth like Haley in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Cycling League, who said “If we speak more about why mountain biking is beneficial and talk about getting better trails, there is a higher chance of it actually happening.”