Through a Challenge Cost Share agreement with the US Forest Service, SORBA with the help of IMBA Trail Solutions hosted a multiple-day training session for volunteers and Forest Service employees to assess trails that currently exist that may have issues with sustainability. The course was developed in collaboration with IMBA Trail Solutions to include current best practices. Our goal was to provide the participants with the tools necessary to make suggestions to their land manager on how to improve the trail system, realign problem areas, or suggest a complete reroute of a trail. According to the USDA Forest Service, trail assessments identify the specific work that is needed to improve national forest trails and meet a higher standard.
For our first time hosting, we selected 25 participants from a variety of user groups with over 70 applicants. Proof that this training is in demand and necessary to make sure our trail systems are sustainable for the long term. We hosted individuals from all seven states SORBA represents, as well as some additional states that fall outside of SORBA’s region but are within Region 8 of the National Forest System.
The course began in June of 2022 with two virtual classroom sessions to discuss proper trail construction and maintenance techniques. Led by IMBA Trail Solutions, concepts that were covered include fall line trail, the half rule, turn design, drains, grade reversals, etc. The intention behind our virtual sessions was to make sure that the students were aware of the basic trail concepts and terminology so they could accurately describe trail issues as well as make suggestions for repairs.
Following our two virtual sessions, we hosted two one-day field courses in Brevard, NC on the Pisgah National Forest. The Pisgah National Forest is host to many great examples of trails that are in need attention. As a popular destination for all sorts of outdoor ventures, and the climate of a temperate rainforest, with many legacy trails on the ground, many of the trails in Pisgah are well worn and show signs of needing attention. Our day began with a quick recap of trail concepts, then participants were led on a tour of trails, highlighting specific problem areas. Post lunch we lead our group to an area that is scheduled for a large trail project, Cat Gap and Butter Gap, led by our Pisgah Area SORBA chapter. It’s one thing to discuss problem areas in the classroom, but to be able to see these issues first hand, participants came away from the training with a good idea of what issues to look for in their local area. As a result of the Challenge Cost Share agreement, a cadre of over 20 volunteers and Forest Service employees learned how to complete an in-depth trail assessment during the field training.
Current SORBA Associate Director, Philip Darden, was present for the course and shared some of his thoughts. “It was great to see both volunteers and Forest Service employees come together in person to learn and share their passion for trails. The fact that we had representatives from all seven states and a wide variety of user groups only highlights the need for this type of training.” The energy surrounding each session was great and we are proud of what the first round of training will do for the region. Philip continues, “We are currently looking for funding to host additional classes, and look forward to providing these tools to trail users of all types.”
Sharing additional thoughts on our training sessions, John Cox from IMBA, Steve Kasacek from IMBA Trail Solutions, and Debbie Caffin from the US Forest Service:
“Through the collaboration of IMBA, SORBA, and USFS R8 Staff, we offered this workshop to equip volunteers with the skills necessary to assess trails and communicate effectively with their local land managers.
The spirit of collaboration was evident not only in our planning process but also in the turnout. We had almost an even mix of volunteers(from multiple user groups!) and agency staff attend this workshop series, which capped off with a field day in Pisgah National Forest. Seeing this group interact, communicate, and build rapport was a highlight inspiring confidence that future collaborations amongst different users, organizations, and land management will continue to grow.” – John Cox, Educator Coordinator, International Mountain Bicycling Association
“Region 8 of the US Forest Service is blessed with arguably some of the best mountain biking and trails in the country. However many of the system trails across the southeast are legacy; old extraction routes, or social trails that have been adopted as recreational infrastructure. These routes don’t meet the contemporary needs of trail visitors and many were never intended for long-term high-volume use. Trail assessment is certainly not the flashiest part of the job, but I feel it is one of the most important. I am thrilled SORBA and Region 8 combined forces to get IMBA Trail Solutions on site to train volunteers and FS employees in the skills they need to continue improving our public lands. Individuals from Virginia to Mississippi now have the knowledge to assist their local ranger districts in assessing trails for sustainability and experience enhancements. And I could not think of a better place to host this workshop than the venerable Pisgah Ranger District, a storied hotspot of riding and one that has seen considerable trail work to address these concerns.” – Steve Kasacek, Project Manager, IMBA Trail Solutions
“The people who attended our field training are active in hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking organizations. Their love of the outdoors, volunteer spirit and desire to keep trails in good condition for all users is what makes our trails sustainable. In the end, everyone benefits. We look forward to offering more courses like this one in the future through our valuable partnership with the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA).” – Debbie Caffin, Regional Trails Program Leader, Southeast Region US Forest Service
SORBA is grateful for the continuing partnership with the US Forest Service and their investment in the trails throughout Region 8. Their dedication to improving the trail experience throughout the southeast is incredible. For more information about future courses and to stay connected make sure to follow us on social media or better yet, join and receive the SORBA newsletter on a regular basis.