SWIMBA turns grass roots into new trails for all

This bike club with a long history in the Valley is dedicated to creating and maintaining trails.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comApril 10, 2014 


Mike Edwards, president of the Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association, runs the ST240 and starts a new trail at Avimor. You can join SWIMBA at 10 a.m. Sunday, as they continue building this beginner trail. For details, go to swimba.org


Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association has been a leader in the local mountain bike scene for nearly as long as mountain biking has existed.

The group is also an integral part of the local biking scene with a devoted crew of volunteers who build and maintain trails, host workshops and events, and work with other users on trail issues.

SWIMBA President Mike Edwards of Boise let's us know what the group is up to these days and what's ahead.

Q: SWIMBA seems to have evolved over the years from an emphasis on bike advocacy to trail building and maintenance. If that's correct, why the shift?

A: Ten years ago, our focus was teaching trail users about trail etiquette and advocate for mountain bikers to have equal trail access.

Our primary focus in the past was reducing user conflicts and educating the trail users about avoiding muddy trails, who has the right-of-way, keeping single track single, etc. Thankfully, we are hearing more that all trails users are friendlier when they encounter each other and mountain bikers are in general more responsible than in the past.

SWIMBA has shifted our primary focus from trail etiquette to trail building for two primary reasons: The first being some of the Foothills trails are at or near carrying capacity, which is now driving user conflicts and frustrations over trail crowding.

To relieve this pressure, we started building additional trails at Avimor and in the Stack Rock/Bogus Basin area. The second reason we shifted the focus to trail building and maintenance is due to the dwindling budgets of the agencies that manage trails.

Those reasons, and because some of us just like to get dirty and feel like little kids again.

Q: The ST240 trail building machine was a huge fundraising success with over $100,000 raised. How is it is going to change how SWIMBA builds and maintains trails?

A: We are very proud of our fundraising success and the community support. The narrow width of the equipment allows less impact to the environment and reduces the heavy lifting and digging that has to be done by volunteers.

We now "frame in" a trail with the ST240, and then focus the volunteer efforts on fine tuning the trail. This allows more time to teach volunteers the fine art of trail building.

The ST240 is going to give us more time to educate our volunteers, which leads back to trail etiquette and advocacy. When people learn why we put swooping short climbs in trails, they are less likely to cut corners because they understand how grade reversals drain water off the trail and reduce future maintenance needs.

If we build it right the first time and people follow the rules, we can ride more and spend less time maintaining trails.

Q: What projects does SWIMBA have planned this year, and what can people do to help?

A: We have 5 to 7 miles of new trail planned at Avimor, including beginner and advanced trails. Currently the ST240 is building a new beginner trail off of Shooting Range at Avimor.

Next up will be the technical upper portion of Bovine Nirvana. And thankfully, Avimor is working with Ada County to get all the trails we have built - and plan to build at Avimor - under public easement.

In July, we're collaborating with Idaho Trail Association to build a trail near Warm Lake, and Central Idaho Mountain Bike Association for another trail build day or two up in McCall.

We are continuing our discussions with the Boise National Forest so we may once again work on Mahalo II, which will connect with the Around the Mountain Trail next summer.

The more volunteers we get, the more and better quality trails we can build and maintain. SWIMBA's schedule is available on our Facebook page and at SWIMBA.org.

Please double check the day of event on the website in case there are last-minute changes due to weather and other factors.

Q: Ridge to Rivers' recent survey showed an increase in people who prefer segregated trails. Considering the popularity of flow trails designed to be ridden faster, I can see potential conflicts between riders and other trail users. Does SWIMBA prefer multiple use or segregated trails for existing and/or future trails?

A: Under most circumstances, SWIMBA prefers building multi-use trails.

We build a full spectrum of multi-use trails based on and dictated by terrain. The trail design is a collaboration of the volunteer trail builders that show up most often rather than one individual.

It's like democracy, it's a bit messy, but the end product is better. It's the difference between trails built by a professional and trails built and designed by those with a passion for building. If we need to cut through 20 yards of brush to get to another fantastic view, or a terrain feature, we will do it.

It's not about getting from point A to point B in the shortest way possible, but the enjoying the views and features that are offered by nature.

The best solution is all the trail users volunteering to build and maintain more trails. Together we learn to understand each other's wants and needs, which helps us make accommodations.

Last year, we worked with equestrians to build a reroute for the horses instead of dropping down a steep incline into a narrow canyon, which had the potential for user conflicts. By working together, we both understood what each user groups wants and provided a fix.

There are some instances where user segregated trails are needed and warranted.

It might be helpful to have a downhill-only flow trail somewhere near Freestone Ridge Trail (No. 5) that would take some of the downhill pressure off Hulls Gulch, Fat Tire and Sidewinder.

It's also nice having a few places like Owl's Roost where you can walk your old dog that has poor hearing or eyesight - hey, that will also be me some day.

We have plans to build a flow trail at Avimor to accommodate riders who like to go faster and catch air. That's one group we need to be cognizant of and accommodate. But they also need to show up in big numbers to volunteer because those trails take extra maintenance.

Q: There's been growth in the miles of trail available in the Foothills and nearby areas in recent years, but there also seems to be plenty of people using them. Do you think the amount of trails is meeting demand, and are there enough resources available to maintain the existing trail network?

A: If we follow the models of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance (Bend, Ore.) or Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance in Washington and use local volunteers and build the local volunteer knowledge base and capacity, we can solve many of the trail building and maintenance needs. And happily, we are well on our way in that direction.

While the Broken Spoke race team has always been staunch advocates of volunteering to build trails, it seems to be contagious with other riding groups like Eastside and the Team Heinous crew.

Bike shops and businesses like World Cycle and DaVita are asking to have their own trail days. The tide has turned!

Q: If I can't climb a hill, whom do I call to have the trail flattened?

A: I have great news for you. This year, 36-inch wheel bikes with 36 speeds will be on the market. With those monster hoops and granny smashing gears, you'll be able to put the hurt on any hill.

Or you could get a fur covered cod piece and pray to Crom. Hey, it worked for Conan the Barbarian, why wouldn't it work for you?

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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