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Flagler Area Biking Joins IMBA-SORBA

Like many IMBA-SORBA chapters, Flagler Area Biking came into
being over concern for losing a local trail, The Swamp. Flagler Area Biking organized
a meeting with the group who had been maintaining the trail and representatives
from Flagler County and St. Johns River Water Management.  During the meeting the land owners
provided a more definitive outline for the permissive use and maintenance of
the trail.  As a result of the
meeting, Flagler Area Biking’s concern that the trail would be closed had been,
at least temporarily, resolved.  But,
our work had just begun…

Flagler Area Biking--SORBA, a newly-forming IMBA-SORBA chapter is not
out of the woods in its attempt toImage transition Flagler County from a quaint
beach community to a regional mountain biking destination.

Flagler County is tucked along the
east coast of Florida between Daytona Beach, the World’s Most Famous Beach, and
Saint Augustine, our Nation’s Oldest City.  Flagler County offers a variety of outdoor opportunities to
explore the more natural side of Florida.  Many of the recreational activities available in Flagler
County weave modern enjoyment with the County’s long, rich history and allows
visitors to enjoy the nearly perfect year-round weather.   

The City, County, and State
governments have done a creditable job creating parks along the Atlantic beach
and inland.  Flagler’s coast begins
in the south with Gamble Rogers State Park and ends in the north with The River
to Sea Preserve, both span from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway
and include amenities from boardwalks to boat and kayak launches.  In between these two beautiful parks
are several other amazing parks along the Intracoastal Waterway and the
Atlantic Ocean with similar amenities including a historical pier which is home
to some of the best surfing in Florida.  

Inland you will find activities
from equestrian trails to hiking in a number of well manicured parks.  Particularly noteworthy inland parks
include Princess Place Preserve and the Florida Agricultural Museum.  Princess Place Preserve houses an
original hunting lodge built in the late 1800s and includes picnic and camping
areas. The Florida Agricultural Museum provides a glimpse into Flagler’s past
with a restored homestead from the late 1800s and other restored buildings from
the 1930s.

Additionally, Flagler County has
been home to a large road cycling community for many years due to its multiple
route options with ample bike lanes. 
Roadies have long been riding “The Loop,” which spins south along the
coast and through the canopied-covered roads that wind into Volusia County
along the Intracoastal Waterway and Florida’s marsh lands. Depending on the
route chosen, Flagler’s rides may take cyclists past the Bulow Plantation ruins,
across the picturesque drawbridge at Highbridge Road, or through the inland
Florida farmlands.

With amazing amenities such as
surfing, fishing, hiking, kite-surfing, horseback riding, road cycling, golfing
and kayaking, which are lacking in many communities, is there room in this community
for mountain biking?  The local SORBA
chapter, Flagler Area Biking, suggests there is. 

Over the years, the mountain biking
community has been limited to a handful of weekend warriors muddling through one
trail, known as “The Swamp”, which was maintained by those who rode the trail.  The Swamp is located in the Graham
Swamp Conservation Area on property owned by St. Johns River Water Management.

The Swamp is a 6.5 mile trail that
will challenge the most experienced riders, technically and aerobically.  The terrain is seasonal ranging from
hard pack to loose sand.  Although
it is always rideable for those up for the challenge, it is best after recent
rains.  The trail contains
surprisingly significant and abrupt elevation changes, fast down hills speckled
with jumps, long flowing straightaways, rock gardens and log runs.  It can take a beginner 1.5 hours or more
to complete and experienced riders less than 40 minutes.    

Flagler Area Biking grew out of concern
for The Swamp and dreams of Flagler County becoming a popular regional mountain
biking destination.  Flagler County
is one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States.  Consequently, the trails at The Swamp began
seeing more and more riders, resulting in damages to the trail.  With more damage came more riders interested
in maintaining the trail and more riders who wanted to ensure the future use of
The Swamp. 

Further concern for The Swamp was
discovered by the group’s founders, who discovered comments in the land
management plan for the property which stated mountain bikers “have begun to ‘improve’ the trails by adding
obstacles.  Should the damaging
activity continue to occur, the District will close the trails to the public
indefinitely.” 

Flagler Area Biking’s primary
concern, and the reason for the club’s formation, was to verify that The Swamp
was not closed to the public.  As
such, Flagler Area Biking organized a meeting with the group who had been
maintaining the trail and representatives from Flagler County and St. Johns
River Water Management.  During the
meeting the land owners provided a more definitive outline for the permissive
use and maintenance of the trail. 
As a result of the meeting, Flagler Area Biking’s concern that the trail
would be closed had been, at least temporarily, resolved. 

Flagler Area Biking then turned
their attention to future trails and began meeting with area landowners and government
officials.  At present, it is
thought that Flagler County will be home to no less than three trails of
varying terrain and difficulty levels. 
That being said, two additional trails have been suggested and are not out
of the realm of making Flagler County home to up to five mountain bike trails.  The dream of Flagler County becoming a
regional mountain biking destination is becoming more genuine by the day as a
result of Flagler Area Biking’s efforts. 

The realization of this dream has
not come without setbacks.  During
the many meetings with area politicians and land managers, Flagler Area Biking
has had to address the misconception about mountain biking held by the
community.  Despite the commendable
efforts at the national level by IMBA and SORBA there are still misconceptions
about mountain bikers in Flagler County. 

Flagler Area Biking has spent a lot
of its time correcting the misconceptions that mountain bikers are not
interested in cutting down trees, vandalizing property, or chasing away wild
life.  To the contrary, the club continues
to explain that mountain bikers enjoy trails where the only sign of disturbance
to the natural habitat is the 18” path below their tires.  Mountain bikers enjoy seeing armadillos,
deer, and other wildlife scurry along the trail through densely wooded areas.  Mountain bikers pick-up the water
bottle dropped by the unknowing rider in front of her and hit the breaks for
slow moving turtles.  Mountain
bikers volunteer countless hours removing trash in and around the trails.  Mountain bikers keep parks free of
those who arrive at the park with criminal and residential inclinations.  Correcting this mistaken impression has
been a slow process.

The members of Flagler Area Biking
have exemplified these qualities since the club’s establishment.  The club has spent much of the last
year cleaning up a forgotten BMX trail and combining that trail with existing
deer trails, which resulted in the “Mala Compra” trail.  Before Flagler Area Biking got involved
at Mala Compra, the trail was littered with trash and housed some of Flagler
County’s less fortunate residents. 
The inspiring history of Mala Compra, Spanish for “bad purchase,” can be
found on the county’s website, www.flaglercounty.org. 

The Mala Compra Trail is
a slow technical 5.5 mile ride in what seems like several different natural
Florida habitats.  The trail begins
with hard-pack single track with switchbacks and straightaways through palm
brush for about 2 miles.  Then riders
will reach a section spanning 1.5 miles with challenging climbs, quick
descents, tight inclined turns, and rock gardens all surrounding several sulfur
springs. This section is followed by several miles of flowing switchbacks.  Finally, the ride will end right where
you started after a final a .5 mile up and down finish.      

As is par for the course in any
effort to add recreational use to public lands, making the trail at Mala Compra
a trail the community embraces has not come without its setbacks.  Flagler Area Biking has expended a
punishing amount of energy cleaning-up the trail and continues its efforts to
convince the community that Flagler Area Biking has the best of intentions with
the land and the community.  If
Flagler Area Biking fails in this endeavor it could mean the trail would be
closed and Flagler County’s mountain biking community will have taken a
significant step backward.    

However, any setbacks experienced
by Flagler Area Biking have only forced the club into becoming stronger.  In fact, Flagler Area Biking is proud
to have joined IMBA-SORBA as a chapter of a national club. IMBA-SORBA has
helped Flagler Area Biking to become a more organized club.  As a result of this organization, Flagler
Area Biking has completed trail maintenance plans, bylaws, memorandums of
understanding, and intends to attend their Board of Directors meeting November
20th. 

These steps are proving
worthwhile.  The local government
has begun seeking out Flagler Area Biking by requesting the club design and
maintain additional area trails. 
The local tourism department is leaning on the club for assistance in
developing area trail guides.  The
community is finally discovering the positive intent of Flagler Area Biking and
joining in the club’s efforts. 

Although Florida Area Biking is not
out of the woods in its efforts, as mountain bikers the clubs founders and members
are comfortable in the woods and will take every fork in the trail to succeed.  The club is seeing the signs of success
even with the gnarly switchbacks the club has experienced along the way.  Soon, Flagler County will be the
regional mountain biking destination envisioned by Flagler Area Biking with
three to five trails for riders of all levels. 

Special thanks to those who have
assisted Flagler Area Biking in their endeavors especially IMBA-SORBA and those
local officials who refuse to lose sight of the benefits mountain biking will
bring to Flagler County.