I will admit it, and I think everyone else knows it too, hard enduro races are cool. The riders at the front of those races do things on dirt bikes that do not seem humanly possible. I will also admit that my name is not Jarvis, Webb, or Haaker and I can’t do the same things that they do. That’s okay though, I don’t make my living by racing, and I’m perfectly happy navigating local trails, especially when I can seek out the more challenging ones. I don’t have access to the closed courses where these hard enduro races take place, and again I don’t have the skill or conditioning to race one. Recently I have noticed a disturbing trend – some of these “Pro” or “A” lines that belong on closed course racing have been finding their way on to trail systems across the country.
One of the fastest ways to endanger a trail system is to add your own lines or build your own trails outside the designation process. Even one track left behind by the most skilled rider often invites others to try the same line, and let’s face it not everyone is going to have the skill to make it. That one track soon becomes spun out by less skilled riders and turns into a trenched-out rut that has all sorts of impacts on the ground. It may seem like just a little single-track trail, but that one trail can impact animal habitat, cause drainage issues, or destroy cultural resources. The most common problem is that these types of user created trails cause visual scarring that is unsightly and often upsets others on the trail system. This is where members of the public and some managers say, “Riders can’t stay on trails and they just want to tear everything up.” Do I believe that riders go out with the intent to cause damage? No, but I know that ego and peer pressure can make you ride things you should not and the impact you are having at the time is probably the last thing on your mind. I also know that if somebody doesn’t like dirt bikes, or is even on the fence, seeing user created “enduro” lines on their local trail system is not going to win them over.
Reid Brown, who is a “AA” (pro) level rider and ISDE competitor as well as a trail manager on the Tillamook State Forest in Oregon, summed it up well in a recent Facebook post. Reid said:
“Too many riders have Graham Jarvis ambition with C class rider abilities, and it’s ruining our trails. I understand wanting to ride “hard enduro” but the sport you see in competitive events around the world does not have a future on public land in the United States. Long story short, it’s not environmentally sustainable, and it degrades trails to the point where all the dirt gets flushed down the mountain into streams. Trying to turn your local riding spot (specifically the Tillamook State Forest) into a hard enduro area is going to get your favorite trail system shut down permanently. These are conversations happening in my office right now.”
This also applies to trail systems on private lands. There are very specific agreements between clubs, program managers, and landowners that determine where trails can go. Once the landowner finds a trail where it is not supposed to be, they often close all trails on their property. At a minimum this will damage loop opportunities, and at a maximum could destroy connectivity for the entire system.
So some of you are probably thinking, “How do I become as good as those pro-guys if I can’t practice?” Or, maybe you are a pro level rider and you want to train for the season. Perhaps you are just bored with existing trails and challenges. How can you find new and challenging opportunities? Fear not, as your friends at NOHVCC have worked with some other highly knowledgeable trail managers to provide some suggestions.
- Seek out harder trails: There are plenty of very challenging trails that already exist on public and private trail systems across the country. Ask around or do some research on maps. A lot of the more remote trails available to motorized use are lightly used and are often more difficult and less developed.
- Design for challenge: Is your favorite trail due for a reroute, or is the trail manager putting in a new trail? Plan from the beginning to have challenge elements in the trail. Help your trail manager find those obstacles out there that are going to be durable and sustainable (rocks, exposed roots, grades) and ask that they include them in the trail design. This is the perfect time to plan and design a route that goes around the obstacle to prevent resource damage, and it also allows riders of varying experience levels to enjoy the trail together.
- Provide options: It is easy to get attached to a certain obstacle. Sometimes it is a rite of passage to make it over said obstacle. However, that one obstacle may make that trail impassible to many other riders. This limits the value of the trail to the system and let’s face it we don’t always have good days and there are going to be “escape routes” created around that obstacle. Instead of just abandoning the obstacle, look for alternative lines that work as part of the system and sign the routes appropriately. Not only does this give riders options and variety, it preserves the obstacle, implements a sustainable alternative route, and minimizes trail impacts. It is really a win for everyone.
- Creatively seek challenge: There is an entire chapter about this in the NOHVCC publication “Great Trails: Providing Quality OHV Trails and Experiences by Dick Dufourd (available as a free electronic download at nohvcc.org). Too often riders equate difficulty with climbing very steep sustained grades or going through some sort of rutted out mess. We need to change our thinking as trail managers and riders. Challenge can mean how tight the trail alignment is between the trees, or how the turn radius tightens up as you navigate the turn. You can include scree or boulder fields in your trails or leave some large fallen logs as obstacles. There are limitless possibilities.
- Build your challenge: If you don’t have these things on your trail system then think about building them. The Hood River County Trails in Oregon include skills development areas on their trails like balance beams, firewood pits, and log matrixes. These were built with on-site materials and greatly increased the difficulty of the trail.
The Bureau of Land Management, Uncompahgre Field Office in Montrose, Colorado built a skills development course at the Peach Valley Recreation Area that could rival a professional Endurocross Course. It has increasing levels of difficulty among each obstacle so you can pick your line based on your skill level or ambition that day. I even built a course in my back yard. It is a short course, but its intense and fun. I was even able to find a set of old concrete steps to turn into an obstacle. I can tell you that jumping those is a unique and slightly intimidating experience.
We can still have hard trails as part of our favorite trail systems, and we can include those social media worthy obstacles in some instances. What we cannot do is decide to create our own routes wherever we feel like it. Work with your local trail managers to find options that provide the experience you are looking for. We need to work together to ensure the future of our local trail systems.