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IMBA World Summit 2010 Resources - Urban Trails: Successful Elements for Forest Hill Park in Richmond, Virginia

Post-Summit Resources

Urban Trails: Successful Elements for Forest Hill Park in Richmond, Virginia


Nathan Burrell, Trails Manager, City of Richmond, VA, and Greg Rollins, President, Richmond-MORE


Session Notes:

With over 40 miles of singletrack in city limits, Richmond, Virginia, is home to many adventure sport athletes, including trail runners, rock climbers, mountain bikers and white-water boaters. Nearly a decade ago, there was significant user conflict in Richmond’s Forest Hill Park. Social trails that were being used by cyclists, hikers, birdwatchers and others were seeing considerable damage. After conservation groups complained about the status of the trails the Parks Department banned mountain bikers — but not other trail users.

Rather than getting caught up in the unjustness of the decision, mountain bikers looked for solutions. In 2003, the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew visited. The Parks staff attended the IMBA Trailbuilding School and embraced the concept of sustainable multi-use trailbuilding.

The visit had some backlash, though. The Friends of Forest Hill group noted that the trails did not meet the guidelines published in IMBA’s book Trail Solutions. They pointed out that trailbuilders in the park weren’t building sustainably — the grades were too steep and erosion continued to be a problem. In response, mountain bikers agreed to rework the trail system, and they accomplished their goals by working closely with elected leaders and council members in Richmond.

The Richmond builders point to these tips:

• Make sure you tell local leaders how much you will do with volunteer labor
• Network with city politicians: learn who all the stakeholders are
• Show them the value of why they need/want trails
• Establish partnership agreements and get them in writing

In urban parks, there are many different players and interest groups — and they tend to change constantly. It’s essential to work with as many different groups as possible. Find out who the leaders are in each community and enlist them in your plans. Other tips include:

• Identify areas of environmental degradation (or user conflict) and apply appropriate solutions.
• Where there is trail degradation there will be user problems — including the risk of injuries and liability.
• Hold education sessions to train trailbuilding volunteers — when they are engaged with building they will become an advocate and stop illegal building
• Layout trail networks to spread users over the available terrain. If you only have one or two trails they will be overwhelmed extremely quickly.
• Provide a range of trail experiences, from family-friendly paths to expert-level singletrack.
• Find equilibrium between competitive events and general use. Forest Hill Park has limited it to three races per year, despite the fact that they get requests all the time.

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