Mountain Bikers Riding Bikes Talking Trails #2
What is the definition of a trail champion? These select few are leaders in their community who have bestowed their knowledge, influence, and passion into advocating for the best local trails on the ground.
We are celebrating these trail champions through a Q&A style blog series. These local leaders have been nominated by members of their communities and have agreed to share insights into their success.
Meet trail champion, Shae Rossetti, of the Central Iowa Trail Association (CITA) in Central Iowa.
IMBA: Tell us about yourself - why do you love mountain biking?
Shae: I grew up in Georgia where I was a trail runner and had a few interactions with mountain bikers. It wasn't until I moved to Iowa that I started actually riding a mountain bike in 2015. I joined my local IMBA chapter, CITA, and began advocating for trails as a trail runner. Then I bought a mountain bike and fell in love. That's when I was hooked and I became very involved in the community.
It's an entirely new way to discover and experience trails and a great excuse to travel to places all over the U.S. I love that it's something you can do solo or with a group - It's how I've met some of my best friends here in Des Moines. Being able to be out in the woods, and playing bikes with friends is always something I look forward to.
IMBA: What partnerships have been the most successful for you in creating more trails in your area?
Shae: So many different partnerships come into play when creating trails - from the land managers, community members, and local government. I've only had experience bringing or working on bringing one new trail system to Des Moines, Iowa: Copper Creek.
I was lucky enough to work for one of the land managers during my time on the CITA Board. A co-worker and I had dreamed of creating a new trail system for the Des Moines area since we both began working at Polk County Conservation, but land for mountain biking out here is few and far between. After 5 years of keeping an eye open for potential land for the Conservation to create a singletrack trail system on, it was important to get the director on board with our vision and sharing the importance that trails have in the area. Covid was actually a huge help in showing data. It was also key to make sure we had the support of our local IMBA Chapter agreeing to maintenance once the trail system was built.
However, I think the most important relationship was within our own community. We wanted to get everyone excited to support a new trail project. There is, of course, a handful of political tape you have to go through, like archaeological surveys of the land, etc. But having a good parks planner to navigate that was wonderful to have. There can be a lot of hands in the "pot" depending on what trail system you are working on, and working to create solid relationships within the communities the trails will serve is the most important. You will always need support even after trails are built!
IMBA: What resources have you found most helpful in guiding the trail vision you have for your community?
Shae: IMBA has been a wonderful resource. I had questions about grants, where to begin, etc. and everyone was quick to make sure they helped us along the way. Phone calls, Zoom meetings, and emails. We also made connections with other MTB chapters/trail stewards and trail builders, which was incredibly helpful when we were making sure the property was viable for trails.
IMBA: What advice would you give to communities that want to see more trails near them?
Shae: Identify the need. Listen to the community and don't be afraid to reach out to organizations like IMBA and other MTB chapters or communities where trails are successful. I reached out to the trail stewards via Facebook in Cuyuna, land managers for different systems in Bentonville, and other trail builders.
IMBA: People forget that trails don’t just fall from the sky. What support do you wish you had when you were starting this work?
Shae: I wish I had a mentor or list of people I could reach out to with maybe a handbook. If only that existed! Maybe it does? It would have also been great to have bigger support with our community leaders. Trails are just as important as soccer and softball fields and being able to have some kind of data that shows this in smaller communities would have been great to have.
IMBA: There is often trepidation around trails. How have you energized your community around a vision for more trails?
Shae: We are lucky enough to live in a community where bikes are loved. However, sometimes the neighbors that are near these trails can be a bit weary of them. It's understandable. Change is scary! Sharing the overall vision and draft of the trail system, as well as being transparent during the process is important. Making sure they know you are there to bring something positive to the community and sharing our MTB community with them is important. These areas provide a space for the community to escape to nature, and give kids green space in cities where there isn't much. Keeping that general stoke and making sure everyone knows what's going on has been successful in keeping the biking community engaged.
IMBA: We know that Trail Champions don’t work alone. Who’s on your team for more trails?
Shae: Adam Fenderick, Polk County Conservation's Park Planner carried all the hard work on his shoulders. I was just the voice, vision guide, and connection maker. Adam knew how to navigate the red tape, emailing lawyers, working closely with the Director and City of Des Moines, the political and legal side of trails. After we got the okay from our uppers, working with the IMBA Trail Solutions team to bring our vision to life was hands down amazing. We shared what we wanted and they really captured that for us. Now that the initial groundwork has been done, it's really been our community. Without their support, trails wouldn't happen and they've kept it alive.