As the summer of 2012 closes down on us, here’s a summary of trail related news for the Big Bear Valley.

JUNE

Economics of Big Bear Trails

The Trails Foundation hosted a presentation about the economic benefits of trails by IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Southwest Region Director Patrick Kell. Bottom line: trails generate revenue, raise property values, and are a lot more than fun strips of dirt through the forest!

Kick and Flick

The Trails Foundation hosted a well attended evening at Northwoods Resort. The event was designed to celebrate the signing of a Decision by District Ranger Scott Tangenberg authorizing the first new single track trail in at least a decade for the San Bernardino National Forest. The event also included a screening of Pedal Driven, an award winning documentary. The film tells the story of mountain bikers who forged relationships with the Forest Service and how they worked together to create spectacular mountain biking trails that achieve recreational goals, while also fostering environmental stewardship. The documentary sounded much like the relationship being developed between the Mountaintop Ranger District and the Trails Foundation.

A few weeks before the event, the BBVTF Board learned that the Forest Service had applied for and had been awarded $80,000 in Legacy Roads and Trails funds to be given to the Trails Foundation to work on improving Skyline and its related trail network. The Legacy Roads and Trails funding required a 2:1 match and the Trails Foundation jumped at the opportunity. To illustrate such a partnership, two “checks” were presented at Kick and Flick for a total of $120,000. One “check” symbolized $40,000 (a combination of in-kind and cash match) committed to the project by the Trails Foundation. The second “check” represented $80,000 cash from the Forest Service.

Skyline Video 1.0

With more than 1,000 views on YouTube and pushed by both Bike Magazine and IMBA, this 5 minute video captures the energy of the Skyline Trail and the potential it has to benefit all trail users in Big Bear. Check it out here: http://www.trailsfoundation.org/skyline-trail/

Transition from the Skyline Project to the whole South Shore Trail Network

For the last few years, the Trails Foundation and the US Forest Service have been focused on the Skyline Trail. However, a few factors broadened our concern and opportunities.

  • First, about the same time that Ranger Tangenberg signed the Skyline Decision Memo, he also signed another decision notice that folded several non-system trails into the official Forest Service network. This decision included a network of trails that were established by Pat Follett and Tom Spiegel for cycling competitions. They include Forest Dreams (formerly known as Wet Dream), Plantation Trail, Cabin 89, Towne Trail, Dickie’s, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lower Falline, and Fern Trail. While these trails had been legally used under permit for cycling events, they were not Forest Service system trails.
  • Second, the Trails Foundation learned about the significant impact of poorly constructed trails on water quality in Big Bear Lake and the heavy pressure on the Forest Service to address water quality problems caused by such trails and unnecessary service roads. We learned that we needed to do something about our watershed or we would lose trails rather than be able to build new ones.
  • Third, Patrick Kell introduced the Trails Foundation to IMBA’s Trails Solution Program. Kell also showed fantastic support for realizing the potential of trails in the Big Bear Valley and he encouraged the Trails Foundation to work on the entire network that would connect to the Skyline Trail. He made a good point: why build a world class Skyline Trail surrounded by a less than world class network?

With these factors in mind, the Trails Foundation sought an IMBA proposal to consider hiring IMBA Trails Solution Program staff to develop a plan for the whole South Shore network, including the Skyline Trail. The goal of the combined Skyline/South Shore Trail Plan would be threefold;

  1. To design Skyline Trail as a world class anchor to the trail network.
  2. To create a well-signed hierarchical South Shore system that identifies beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails.
  3. To apply design practices that minimize runoff into the lake.

The South Shore generally includes the area south of town up and over the ridgeline (2N10 roughly follows the ridgeline). The Bear Mountain Ski Area is the eastern bookend and the dam is the western bookend.

IMBA Commits Funds

Patrick Kell donated discretionary dollars from his Trail Building Fund to complement the IMBA proposal. His $3,000 will cover the cost to prepare a 2-3 mile section of the Skyline Trail for construction in September.

JULY

My Trail

Three Big Bear residents were featured over the summer; Jonathan and Gianna Nourok, and Allan Laframboise. All mountain bikers, these people love Big Bear for what it is; a beautiful place with a myriad of outdoor recreation opportunities. You can see their stories here: http://www.trailsfoundation.org/my-trail/

Trail Building Training Day

July 14th saw more than 30 people show up to the top of Fern Trail, where Patrick Kell from IMBA taught us the basics of good trail design and construction. The goal was to educate about 10 volunteers to become crew leaders to direct trail building crews. Under Kell’s instruction and supervision, the Trails Foundation volunteer crew reworked a 200 yard section of Fern Trail. In addition to the design and construction trainees, we had additional volunteers help with general forest cleanup around one of the future Skyline trailheads and painting and installing a Forest Service sign. This group was also given a tour of a section of fuelbreak that will become part of the Skyline Trail corridor. A sincere thanks to all that showed up and put effort into our trails.

Working on Contracts

With all of the buildup from Kick and Flick, we understand why folks ask us “When are we breaking trail?” We were under the impression that we would be able to break ground shortly after Kick and Flick. However, Ranger Tangenberg and the Trails Foundation Board have had a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the Legacy Roads and Trails Funds. To begin spending money, we needed to sign a cost-share agreement and the preparation of the document and supporting information took longer than we anticipated. Without the cost-share agreement, we could not sign the IMBA contract and move forward on the plan. So we hunkered down and completed forms, drafted and edited budgets, and worked through computer glitches alongside Ranger Tangenberg and staff member, Scott Eliason.

AUGUST

Cost-Share Agreement

Mid-August brought pens to the table. The Forest Service and the Trails Foundation signed the cost share agreement. This means we have $120,000 available to work on the Skyline/South Shore Trail Network.

IMBA Trail Solutions Contract

With funds available, the Trails Foundation signed a contract with IMBA (the International Mountain Bike Association) for almost $20,000. IMBA will create a Skyline Trail Plan, create a South Shore Trail Plan, and pin flag a few miles of the Skyline Trail. For Big Bear, this means that a group eminently qualified (we checked their references…) will give us blueprints for a mountain top of world class singletrack, linked together in a logical, sustainable manner that lets you ride all day long and still come back for more. All we have to do is build it.

Skyline Trail Breaking

The Skyline Trail Plan and pin flagging is scheduled for completion mid-September. The Forest Service is scheduled inspect and approve the pin-flagging thereafter. The Trails Foundation is planning a work day on September 23rd. On that day, the Pulaski’s will swing, McLeod’s will scrape, and shovels will move dirt to construct the first section of the Skyline Trail. During the month of September, IMBA, the Trails Foundation, and the Forest Service identify what portions of the trail should be built by hand and what portions should be built by machine.

Shimano Skyline Work Day

Shimano is as enthusiastic about the South Shore Trail network as we are and they want to get to work as well. They will visit Big Bear in September for another Skyline Trail work day. Their efforts are being coordinated by our new favorite partner, IMBA. We can’t wait to see the trail section completed by employees of the bicycle gear manufacturer. For Big Bear, and for anyone, this is a big deal; Shimano is the world manufacturing leader in drivetrain, brakes, and other parts for bicycles.

Healthy Watersheds and Sustainable Trails

In the Big Bear Valley, we have miles and miles of trails that were constructed along fall lines. As a result, when it rains, water rushes toward trails and they become streams of water and debris. Such flows leave deep cracks in trails and, when the flows reach the lake, they add sediment and nutrient loads. One of the goals of the Skyline/South Shore Project is to fix this watershed problem by rerouting trails that can be rerouted, opening new, more sustainable trails, and returning non-system trails that cannot be effectively rerouted to a natural state. Ultimately, we seek well-constructed trails that shed water and are easier to maintain so that all recreationalists can spend more time enjoying trails and less time having to maintain them.

Unfortunately, at our board meeting on August 20th, we learned that District Ranger Tangenberg is required by the terms of the Legacy Roads and Trails grant to rehabilitate (i.e. close) several non-system trails by the end of September. In more direct terms, Ranger Scott’s superiors are telling him to close 4-5 unauthorized trails (as marked on their map) and restore them to a natural condition. While we are not happy to close trails, we understand that bad trails should be replaced by better trails.

The Forest Service also announced that they have an approved Forest Closure Order and may be forced to begin citing riders for using or building unauthorized trails. Much of this comes because so many of the downhill trails in the South Shore network are user built with little regard for proper and long term trail design. Illegal trail construction is not much different than timber theft. Instead of cutting down trees, people are cutting dirt. Instead of stealing wood, they are stealing topsoil. The Forest Service has introduced user-built trails into the system that have been well built (Wet Dream) but wants to erase the ones that cause undue erosion and damage the environment (the 5 downhill trails that come down off National Hike A Bike). Our August Board Meeting closed with the Forest Service telling us, essentially, that we have the opportunity to work with the Forest Service to reroute existing trails, put up new signage, build new good trails, and to influence other users to be respectful of environmental conditions. If we are successful, we will be able to enforce ourselves and even add miles to our trail network. Let’s not consider the alternative….being enforced by the alternative.

A Special Thank to Follett and Spiegel

Several years ago, Pat Follett and Tom Spiegel contributed funds to start the process to legalize their race course trails. Although it took time, their work has now paid off. Some of our favorite trails are now officially legal because they had the foresight to begin the process. In the past, working with the Forest Service was much different than it is today. We need to thank Pat and Tom and those who have supported them for the foundation they created for Big Bear Valley. We need to also thank the Forest Service. Under Ranger Tangenberg’s leadership, the Forest Service personally ensured that the Team Big Bear Trails were integrated into the legal trail system and he also was a driving force behind the Skyline Trail.

LOOKING AHEAD

For the Fall of 2012, we are finalizing an aggressive work schedule to complete the Skyline and South Shore Trail Plan and to begin construction of Skyline Trail. The Trails Foundation is committed to working deliberately with the Forest Service and IMBA to make positive change in our Valley. We believe that continuing to work collaboratively with Ranger Tangenberg will reap huge benefits for our trails system. We hope that you agree and will participate in realizing the vision of the Skyline/South Shore Trail System. This fall, our progress will be determined by our ability to attract strong volunteers ready to dig single track. Are you ready? Pick up two shovels…bring a friend…and come build a world class trail network!