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Trail Planning & Design on the West Coast

Trail Planning & Design on the West Coast

Two IMBA Trail Solutions Professionals Share their Experiences

Posted: September 20, 2022
Photo courtesy of: Steve Messer

IMBA Trail Solutions planners, designers, project managers and community engagement specialists span the country each calendar year, crafting the next generation of trail development. The mileage and elevation gains they put on their hiking boots are no match for each of these professionals' passion for bringing more human-powered recreation opportunities to communities.

Mid-summer, their travel slows, and the work that most never see begins: drafting plans, making calls, advocating for communities, navigating endangered species ecosystems…the list goes on. We were curious about some of the team’s most notable field experiences to date in 2022, so we asked, and they answered:

Leah Mancabelli & Shane Wilson

Q: Tell us about yourself and how long you’ve been on the IMBA Trail Solutions team.

LEAH: My professional elevator pitch might read as: “landscape architect with a background in ecological restoration”. But I prefer to call myself a map nerd and ardent community member! My world revolves around playing with my friends in beautiful places. Naturally, I’ve made it my business to create more opportunities to do just that by protecting natural resources and people's access to them. I’ve been with IMBA Trail Solutions for 2 years, designing rad places for people on bikes.

SHANE: I started with IMBA Trail Solutions in 2010 as a trail builder at Sandy Ridge, OR just an hour away from Portland. Building those flowy bike-optimized trails in a wet almost rainforest-like environment gave me experience that led me around the world in the following years: from creating destination trails in Switzerland and Norway to training local teams in Mexico on how to plan, design, and build trails for their communities and visitors. It has been a whirlwind over the last nearly 13 years of bringing trails to trail lovers.

Leah looking at plans alongside Trina Ortega at Coal Basin Ranch, CO.


Shane and IMBA Trail Solutions' Joey Klein in Pagosa Springs, CO.

Q: Where has 2022 taken you so far?


So far this year I’ve had the privilege of working with communities in:

  • Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Jonesboro, Arkansas
  • Cedar City, Utah
  • Chillicothe, Ohio
  • Aspen, Colorado
  • Redstone, Colorado 
  • Jonesboro, Arkansas (Again <3) 
  • Pagosa Springs, Colorado
  • Cuchara, Colorado


I don’t have to travel for work as much as I used to but some of the highlights this year have been:

  • Hot Springs, AR
  • Jonesboro, AR
  • Rogue River, OR
  • Cedar City, UT
  • Beaver, UT
  • Heber City, UT
  • Bountiful, UT
  • Pagosa Springs, CO
  • Chillicothe, OH
  • Knoxville, TN
Working with fellow IMBA Trail Solutions' co-worker Tim Halbakken in Cuchara, CO.


Shane after a ride in Jonesboro, AR.

Q: What do you look forward to when traveling to a new project location?

LEAH: Remember the excitement of showing a visitor around your bedroom as a little kid? When you point out your favorite toy, or piece of art, what you were really saying is; “This is ME, this is who I am!”. Now imagine that scaled up, and with less stuffed animals. It’s the same experience getting to know these places from the people who invest so much into them.

SHANE: First-class upgrades! (jk) I’m a lover of good terrain, and it is especially exciting to find unique terrain features in places that you didn’t expect. To push your way through thick brush and discover a system of rock ledges is like unwrapping a gift. It can completely change the flavor and appeal of a trail and that just never gets old.

Roadside views in Pagosa Springs, CO.


Joey, Shane, and Leah meeting with the USFS in Pagosa Springs, CO.

Q: What's one thing communities should be aware of before getting a start on developing high-quality trails?

LEAH:  If you and your community are just getting the ball rolling, get ready for more questions than answers. Asking the right questions builds understanding between all parties. Questions, when properly framed, help to trigger deep thought and are useful in exposing those constraints/opportunities that lie beneath the surface. Most importantly, asking questions is a quick way to build critical partnerships and cooperation with stakeholders. Good questions can help to build rapport and trust.

SHANE:  Build your capacity! Capacity to organize. Capacity to plan. Capacity to build. Capacity to activate. Capacity to maintain. Most places only get 1-2 of these things right.

Trailhead in Chillicothe, OH.


Trailhead kiosk in Pagosa Springs, CO.

Q: Tell us about any challenging situations you've been in this year.

LEAH: Trails create space to engage with your community. All members of your community! Pushing for partners to look beyond traditionally exclusive metrics to realize a system that caters to all potential users has been a challenge. It’s also been a privilege to watch partners trust and engage with the process, seeing for themselves how valuable consideration for all users is.

Leah working with Luke DeMuth and Trina Ortega at Coal Basin Ranch, CO.

Q: What trail experiences and bike-optimized facilities are communities asking for in 2022?

LEAH:  Generally speaking, communities are looking for purpose-built elements, and intentionally curated experiences. Communities are ready to make investments in these opportunities a priority, and with that comes a higher standard of planning and design.

SHANE:  Longer rides. Steeper trails. More rocks. Efficient climbs. Trails that can be ridden to from home or town (people are sick of driving to the trailhead). “NICA” competition venues and training tracks.

Meeting community in Chillicothe, OH.

Q: Describe your favorite field experience of the year.

LEAH:  My favorite field experience this year was in Jonesboro, Arkansas. While inventorying other programming elements in a public park, my colleague Shane and I were taking a picture of crosswalk signage (glamorous I know) when a man in a dually truck and cutoff shirt stopped and rolled his window down. Earnestly, he asked if we were on a scavenger hunt and if he could help us find anything. Jokingly, my colleague asserted the last thing on our scavenger hunt list was to find someone over 6’2” and give them a hug. Without pause, this man got out of his truck and gave Shane a hug like an old friend. After a good laugh between all of us we clarified what we were up to and ended up hearing all about how much this man loves Jonesboro and this park specifically. It’s so corny, but once you strip this work down - it’s all about people and community.

SHANE:  I’ve had a few opportunities this year to ride the trails on BLM lands near Cedar City Utah alongside IMBA donors, other trail pros, NICA coaches, and land managers from an alphabet soup of agencies. It was so rewarding to hear their praise, learn from their critiques, and talk about how to put trails like the ones in Cedar City where they live.

Leah getting air in Jonesboro, AR.


Shane atop the Iron Range Trail System in Cedar City, UT with members of IMBA's Singletrack Society.
About the author
Liz Chrisman portrait

Liz (she/her) grew up pedaling a garage sale 10-speed on the dirt roads of the Arkansas River Valley and on tarmac throughout college. While finishing her master's program, a coworker handed her a rigid Gary Fisher, drove into the Ouachitas and they conquered mileage on the IMBA EPIC Womble…

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