Biketrails Valencia: How We Build Trails
Building and maintaining trails in Spain is something that has really taken off in recent years. There are few trail clubs and associations deeply involved, due to a number of factors: It is difficult to get permission, much less funding when there is no clear understanding of the many community benefits provided by a well developed public trail system. Thankfully these benefits are being realized and we are starting to see trail initiatives popping up across the country. This is in part due to a few hard working volunteers, that are giving tons of volunteer hours to their local trails. These efforts are finally gaining some recognition throughout the country. One example is Biketrails Valencia recently being chosen as runner up for the Take Care of Your Trails initiative awarded by IMBA Europe in the category "Outstanding Local Trail Crew".
Yari: How Biketrails Valencia started?
BTV: Biketrails Valencia started as an idea to promote tourism in the small town of Higueruelas, located about 50 km from Valencia. From there, a small group of cycling enthusiasts, recognized the amazing potential in the area for mountain biking. They decided to get involved and set to work by collaborating with the city council in a mutually beneficial way.
Yari: Who is behind Biketrails Valencia? Do you have some kind of organized structure or is just a group of friends that work on the trails on their spare time?
BTV: Biketrails Valencia is a project created by the City Council of Higueruelas to promote tourism development in the area through a mountain bike center. Because Higueruelas is a very small town, with less than 500 inhabitants, which does not have the capacity to manage the center, a small group of cycling enthusiasts, and aware of the possibilities that the area has for mountain biking, we are contributing selflessly to the management of the center.
We are not a company, so we have created a cycling club to have a legal base for the project, as a non-profit sports entity that allows us to bring together all those people who want to be part of the project and collaborate with us.
Yari: How do you finance the purchase of resources, tools, pay for fuel, snacks for volunteers, etc. How can external people collaborate with the project?
BTV: The Higueruelas City Council assumes the costs of the center's infrastructure, within the possibilities of a very small municipality with very limited resources.
The necessary expenses to develop all the activities of the center are obtained basically from the membership fees of the Club, and other activities that allow us to obtain small benefits, such as the realization of MTB technique courses, merchandising sales, or advertising.
But we emphasize that we do not get any income for our work as managers of the center and that we personally assume all the expenses that this generates. As we have indicated above, we have created a cycling club to bring together people who want to collaborate with us, and who want to contribute their bit by paying the annual membership fee. At the moment it is our only source of income, which allows us to maintain a small budget.
Yari: Describe a typical day of work on the trails.
BTV: Before starting any actual work on a trail we do a lot of administrative tasks, which as a first step includes research and review of old maps of the area to find those trails that existed in the past, but have been lost due to lack of use.
Once these trails have been located, we prepare a technical report for the recovery of the trail and present it to the relevant organizations in order to obtain the authorization that will allow us to begin field work. Then we begin a series of initial actions in the mountain that usually take several weeks, or even months, to locate and mark the exact route of the trail we want to recover.
When we have this first phase of the work done, we ask the volunteers to join us and carry out the recovery work itself. Depending on the number of volunteers the schedule varies. From our experience we know that the full recovery of a trail, which starts with official authorization to a finished trail that is ready to ride, typically takes several months of work.
In addition to the recovery of a trail, which is involves a lot of hard labor, we also organize volunteer days with smaller groups to do some maintenance work on specific areas of a trail that need punctual work. These days are usually not so intense, and we try to carry them out during a non work day with a lunch provided to anyone who shows up to help.
Yari: In Spain we are just beginning to see this type of trail maintenance and construction projects. In general it is something little known and appreciated. What could be done to better inform locals about this type of work?
BTV: Well, at this point I might sound a bit critical of the cycling community, since we can confirm that the information is reaching the cyclists, but there is often no clear commitment on their part to collaborate. When we make these kinds of calls, it is usually pretty difficult to convince a cyclist to leave the bike at home for a day and exchange it for a hoe or rake. Perhaps we have all become a bit too comfortable riding great trails, without considering how they got there.
We try to publicize the work we do, and of course it is also very important when media is doing providing us a voice and giving visibility to these initiatives, but what is really important is that the cycling community is also regularly involved. If we don't take care of recovering and maintaining the trails, mountain biking will disappear.
Yari: What do you think is the best way for users to get involved in these efforts?
BTV: The first step as trail users is to understand that trails don't maintain themselves, and that if you go to a mountain area and you find well-maintained trails, it's usually because someone has dedicated their time and money to make it happen.
From there, the first thing is to take care of the trails and not undo the work that others have done. And the second thing is to find out how you can collaborate with the people or entities that are doing trail maintenance in the area.
Yari: We always hear stories of misunderstandings and arguments with hikers and other trail users. Have you experienced these situations on your trails? How do you make users aware of the need to share and respect each other?
Fortunately, we have not had any problems of this type in our area, apart from a few small dramas. That type of situation can be solved in a very simple way: with education and respect. The mountain is very big and we all fit in it, so it is very important that we all respect each other and do our best to share the trails in a harmonious way.
Cyclists have the obligation to yield to hikers, slow down and even stop and get off the bike if necessary, when we come across a hiker. Fortunately, we believe that cyclists behave politely and that there are fewer and fewer problems of coexistence in the mountains, at least in our area.
Yari: What would be your advice to others who want to start a project similar to yours?
BTV: The first thing is to have a lot of patience, because this type of initiatives take a lot of work and it is complicated to carry them out.
You have to understand that it is no use trying to do things quickly and that it is necessary to comply with all the requirements as requested by the administration, even if the deadlines are desperately slow on many occasions.
We also recommend doing things with conviction and not relying too much on the opinions of detractors, of which there are many. If things are done with passion and determination, the results usually come sooner.
Yari:Can you explain the importance of volunteer recruitment and trail maintenance in your area?
BTV: The mountain trails are one of the main attractions of the area for active tourism, so their recovery and maintenance is essential to revitalize the economy of an inland area like ours. On the other hand, the municipality of Higueruelas is very small (less than 500 inhabitants) and has very limited financial and personal resources. For this reason, the creation of a social mass of volunteers who collaborate with their work in the maintenance of the trails is essential to develop our project.
Yari:How do you recruit new volunteers?
BTV: The vast majority of volunteers come from a cycling club, which we have created to bring together all those who want to collaborate with the development of our project. We are currently about 100 members in the club and we try to attract new members by carrying out activities that are attractive for people to get involved, such as MTB technique training courses, group MTB routes, work days in the mountains, etc. We also invite all those who want to help us mainly through our social networks and our website.
Yari:Explain why recovering and restoring ancient trails is important?
BTV: The area in which we are located has a very important ancient trail network, due to the fact that there are small villages, farms and farming areas that were formerly interconnected by trails through the mountains. And many of those trails are being lost because they are no longer used today for agriculture or livestock. We have to try to keep the trails that our ancestors created long time ago in good condition so that our children or grandchildren can enjoy them in the future. So, we focus our action on the recovery of those ancient heritage, giving a new life to the old trails, adapting them to the new uses of the mountain, which are related to active tourism and nature sports, such as mountain biking.
Yari:You mentioned that you get volunteers to feel restored trails are a part of them… can you explain this a bit more (in more detail)
BTV: We have verified that people in general take care of and enjoy the trails much more when they have worked on their recovery and maintenance, because in this way, the trails become something of yours, something in which you have put your personal effort. It is not the same to ride your bike along a trail that was already there because someone fixed it, than along a trail you have worked on. When you ride your bike there, you know the cost of the recovery of this trail, you know that many branches had to be cut, you know that many stones had to be moved, and in short, you are aware of the great work done to be able to enjoy it later. It’s about getting people to feel that there is something of them on those trails. That makes you feel proud of your work and makes you enjoy your riding experience much more.
Yari:Why is "Take Care of Your Trails" so important to the local MTB community?
BTV: "Take Care of Your Trails" helps to make the cyclist collective aware that we should forget about comfort and passivity, and instead take action. If we want to enjoy our trails, we have to take care of them. It’s a fundamental job for us as cyclists and trail users, but also a help for other users, and certainly a help for our successors.
Yari: What are the biggest challenges you are facing as a community?
BTV: Our main challenges right now is getting recognition and help from government bodies, and to obtain funding. We carry out all this work through groups of volunteers who dedicate our time and resources to the maintenance and care of the trails in a selfless way. We need local governments to recognize our work and help us administratively and financially so that this project is viable in the long term. We also need mountain bike brands to get involved and financially help initiatives like ours, because without trails, there is no mountain to bike on.
Yari: Thank you for your time. Is there anything we have left out, any comments you would like to make, questions, thanks?
BTV: Thanks You. We would simply like to appeal to all those involved in mountain biking and cycling in general, including cyclists, stores, manufacturers, clubs, etc., and of course public entities, to understand that these types of projects need funding to be viable in the long term, because you can't always depend on the selfless work of volunteers.
We firmly believe that our work is essential to contribute to the development of mountain areas through active tourism, bringing back to life the trails that are part of our heritage, and that are being lost due to lack of use.
The way in which trails are being used is continually evolving. Mountain Biking in particular has benefited from huge gains both in bike and trail building technology. Hiking and other trail users are also using the trails more, going further, and exploring. Outside tourism is booming as people are enjoying more time in nature, and it is essential that we work to adapt the trails to these new users.
You can collaborate with this project by becoming a member of their trail association, 60€ annually, just 5€ per month.
You can get updates and follow Biketrails Valencia on the following sites:
Official web site / Instagram / Facebook / Youtube