By Colby King
If a tree falls across a mountain bike trail in the woods, and no local IMBA chapter members are certified to use a chainsaw to remove the tree, will riders still come around to enjoy the trail? The members of Midlands SORBA are working to prevent that question from needing to be answered, as a handful of members joined other locals and participated in a chainsaw training course over a recent weekend in Newberry, South Carolina.
As members of IMBA-SORBA chapters, we all recognize that tree falls across trails are problematic. They not only decrease trail flow, but they can be dangerous surprises to unsuspecting riders. When trees fall across our trails, we know that sometimes we must wait for land managers to clear the fallen tree. But when it is possible for members to care for their trails themselves, we can clear trails faster.
Under the leadership of Newberry-local and avid mountain biker Nathan Hunter, Midlands SORBA has joined with local officials and residents to clear and re-invigorate the mountain bike trail that weaves through the County Park. The cross country trail at Lynch’s Woods Park is one of the most beautiful in South Carolina’s Midlands. A 45-minute drive northwest from Columbia, the park is 286 acres of upland oak, hickory, and pine forest. To keep this trail clear, Midlands SORBA members enrolled in the chainsaw training course so that they are able to help remove large obstacle from the trail, keeping the trail safe and fun to ride.
Attendees of this chainsaw training course spent a Friday evening in a classroom studying the risks and abatement techniques associated with chainsaw work. They then gathered in the woods on a crisp and sunny Saturday morning to practice the limbing and bucking techniques learned the night before. Forester and master sawyer Dennis Helton instructed the course. Helton is an experienced sawyer who has worked across the US, as well as in Puerto Rico and Liberia, (and was responsible for felling the national Christmas Tree). Helton’s experience and engaging teaching style turned what might have been a tedious evening of study into an interesting learning opportunity. Attendees learned from him that chainsaw work is dangerous, with the average accidental cut to a sawyer’s body resulting in 75 stitches. Attendees also learned not only how to clear trees safely, but also how to do so efficiently, saving time and energy for their next ride. Upon satisfactory completion of the course, participants became certified sawyers, and are now able to use a chainsaw with permission in the national forest and other public lands.
One could make another joke, asking “How many mountain bikers does it take to remove a fallen tree from the trail?” But, as IMBA-SORBA members, we all know that it takes the contributions of time, effort, and unique talents of all of our members to keep our trails clear and improve mountain biking opportunities for everyone.