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Deerfield Beach, Florida

The first lesson mountain biking teaches is how to fall. The second getting back up again. The resilience of mountain bikers is illustrated in one of the mostly unlikely places - South Florida. Facing extremely limited park space, and an obvious lack of mountains, a group of mountain bikers created trails that would become the hub of one of the largest mountain bike communities in the country. When the area was hit by an unprecedented series of hurricanes in 2005, the tenacity of the community would determine whether mountain biking would continue to exist in South Florida.

In October of 2005, Hurricane Wilma brought South Florida to a standstill as it swept through as a Category 3 storm. Of the five trail systems serving a population of over 5 million, three sustained heavy damage. Quiet Waters Park, in Deerfield Beach, saw the worst damage, the result of a direct hit by the hurricane. Most of the trees were knocked down and many of the standing trees were damaged, leaving a situation in which individual extraction of the felled trees would be both cost prohibitive and very dangerous. Bulldozers were brought in to remove the trees, leaving a barren landscape in their wake.

With blue tarps still blanketing many roofs, the mountain bike community began looking for ways to restore the trails. Park officials contacted IMBA to help with the difficult situation, which included risk management concerns, limited funding, a mandate to restore the native habitat, and the objective of creating a new trail that would bring the mountain bikers back to the park.

"A flat and denuded landscape wouldn't make the park proud or the riders happy," said IMBA's Director of Field Programs, Scott Linnenburger. IMBA developed an innovative master plan for the park, in which the same machines used to flatten the area would be used to recontour the terrain. Working with landscape architects, Linnenburger designed a topography plan that mimicked the dune ridges of historic Florida. "We wanted to develop a viable wetland-edge habitat," Linnenburger said of the design, "By creating an inter-dune landscape, we increased the elevation gain of the trails from 1 foot to 20 feet while developing a habitat in which native species would be more likely to flourish."

Bringing in the amount of soil needed to create topography of this scale would have exceeded the Park's budget, but Linnenburger found a creative solution that addressed multiple problems within the park. "The steep ledges lining the banks of the lakes were a serious risk management concern for the park," Linnenburger continued, "We used machines to pull back the banks leaving more of a natural wetland edge while generating enough material to create the topography for the entire area." Newly planted vegetation took off very quickly due to the organic material contained in the newly transplanted soil.

With thousands of visitors accessing a trail on less than 50 acres of land, significant measures were taken to ensure the trail design would serve a variety of skills. Designed as a stacked loop system, easier trails were placed closer to the parking area while narrow and rocky intermediate trails provided progressive options further into the trail. The signage plan, which indicates difficulty, direction, and the quickest exit allows each trail user to choose their experience, satisfying both first-timers and experienced riders. Quiet Waters Park no longer bares any resemblance to the canopied urban oasis it once was. Through the efforts of the community, the Park, and IMBA, the aftermath of a disaster has led to a trail that encourages new mountain bikers to explore the sport while giving them a glimpse of Florida's natural history.

This report was made possible by a grant from Shimano.