We chose Vermont as a home for many reasons, and recreation was one on the top on the list. We love running out our door on the Richmond Mountain Trails and riding mountain bikes on the 40+ miles of trails right from the center of town. None of this would be possible without the incredible generosity of private land owners and without the hard work by the Vermont Mountain Bike Association (VMBA). We are so proud to announce a collaboration bottle with VMBA launching today. While many of you don't live in Vermont, VMBA is such an incredible organization that we wanted to share their story with all of you. We have worked with Nick, Joe and Krysy from VMBA to bring this to life and we asked them a series of questions to help understand what VMBA is all about. Read below and if you ride the VMBA trails, please remember to become a member to help support trail maintenance and growth!
For every Bivo x VMBA bottle sold, $4 will be donated to VMBA. Each bottle comes with an orange dust cap that matches the color of this year's VMBA membership velcro strip. And, the laser design was etched at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, VT. We love making things here at Bivo, so providing students with solid work experience was the cherry on top for this project!
VMBA is unique in that 70% of trails in the state of Vermont are on private land. This is so awesome! How has VMBA (and the state of VT) made this possible? Why do you think landowners are so generous with their land?
Out of necessity, really! Relative to other regions, much of the land in the northeast was established as private property before large tracts of public land could be established. A huge step that made it much easier for landowners to allow public access trails on their land is the Limited Landowner Liability protection that VMBA helped pass into law 20 years ago – which ensures landowners cannot be held liable for any injuries that occur to trail users on their property. Vermont also has a longstanding ethic of open public access – in fact, in Vermont law anyone can hunt & recreate on private land unless it is officially posted otherwise. This certainly does not allow for trailbuilding without permission, but it does set an example. As to why the landowners we work with are so generous – there are a host of reasons, from acknowledging the benefits of public access recreation to their communities to the value of having world-class trails at their doorstep – and one of our advocacy goals is to have public access trails added to Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal program, which currently provides tax breaks for certain landowners who actively manage, farm, or conserve their land.
We know there is a fine balance between preserving land and being able to use land as a source of recreation and VMBA does a great job in putting a lot of focus on this. What efforts does VMBA put in to make sure land is being treated with respect?
The balance between preservation and recreation is at the core of conservation. To aid this effort, VMBA Chapters and the trail builders we often employ use tools provided by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources like the Natural Resource Atlas, which identifies wetlands, sensitive wildlife habitat, and other areas that should – generally – not have trails. We also often work with conservation organizations like Vermont Land Trust or the Trust for Public Land, who help educate us about the balancing of use and preservation. Lastly, we adhere to a strong set of Best Management Practices that minimize environmental impacts and run the gamut from planning to design to building to maintenance. And it also links back to the extent of trails on private land, which require that we need to act as invited guests whenever and wherever we ride – something we repeatedly emphasize in our educational campaigns.
Mountain biking in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Since moving to Vermont, our team has been really impressed with how respectful mountain bikers are when trails are closed due to wet conditions. It really seems like you have instilled values into riders about listening when trails are closed. How do you think you were able to do this so effectively?
This ties directly to the previous questions about treating the land with respect and the extent of trails on private land, which require that we need to act as invited guests whenever and wherever we ride. That’s a pretty clear and simple message to drive home with folks – If you were invited to someone’s home or property, you would treat it with respect. something we repeatedly emphasize in our educational campaigns. As for mud season, specifically – it’s such a clear transgression – if you are leaving a noticeable rut, you are damaging the trail and need to head home or find somewhere else to ride. We try to keep this messaging as clear and simple as possible. I also think VMBA members are largely to thank too, as they are helping establish a social norm that if you ride closed or muddy trails, you’re selfishly risking all of us loosing access – I know lots of folks who’ve educated others on this front.
What new trail networks are being built that you can’t wait to ride?
Personally, I can’t wait to ride the new Driving Range network in Bolton! Firstly, Richmond Mountain Trails have demonstrated their ability to build incredibly fun trails, and this is their first ‘blank canvas’ so to speak. I helped out at volunteer build days over the summer, and feel a bit of ‘skin in the game too. Lastly, the network has been purpose-built for adaptive athletes and I am so stoked to ride someplace that is truly inclusive for everyBODY, as our friends at Vermont Adaptive would say.
And while we don’t have too many brand new networks coming online – there are already over 50 in a State smaller than some National Parks – we are investing a ton of time and resources in upgrades and connector trails that will make our existing systems that much better and create new experiences across Vermont.
We know VMBA has initiatives you work on each year relating to DEI, is there anything you are really excited about this year? In particular, how are you welcoming people of color, people with different capabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community?
VMBA is taking a very intentional approach to offering identity-based programming. This coming season, we have Learn to Bike Month; offering free demos and clinics to youth and adults, a pilot bike share/rental program; offering no-cost rentals for individuals who may have economic barriers, are co-hosting Elevate, a women/gender non-conforming mountain bike event with NEMBA and Kingdom Trails, and so much more. We aim to offer opportunities for youth, non-male riders, adaptive athletes, BIPOC Vermonters, and LGBTQIA+ individuals in 2023 and beyond.
What are some major projects that are in need of funding currently?
One major funding need is for deferred maintenance, upgrades, and repairs. The dramatic growth in outdoor recreation - led by but not limited to trail riding - has strained trail systems throughout the state beyond their original carrying capacity. We need to replace tread, reroute trails, build new drainages, etc.. to ensure stoke is kept high while environmental impact remains low. An internal survey we ran last year suggested well over a million dollars in these sorts of overdue upkeep projects statewide.
On the other end of the spectrum, our Velomont Trail Collective Chapter is leading the charge in the development of the Velomont Trail, a hut-serviced 485 mile trail corridor that will run from Massachusetts to Canada and connect 20+ VMBA Chapters. We’ve secured some major federal funding for the portions of the new trail in the Green Mountain National Forest thanks to Senator Leahy, though major funding gaps remain to help us improve and build new trail on private land.
Our team having some fun with the VMBA bottle and riding trails in Vermont.
If people want to support VMBA, what is the best way to get involved?
The number one way that individuals can support VMBA is by becoming a VMBA Member. Membershipssupport our Chapters' trail building & maintenance efforts, the platform of administrative services they rely upon, and our ongoing advocacy work needed to protect private landowners and trail access. Beyond Membership, we highly encourage individuals to volunteer with a Chapter through trail days, events, or serving on a Chapter Board of Directors. Most Chapters are volunteer-led and rely on volunteers to accomplish their work. Finally, being a good trail steward and following our Rider Responsibility Code is one of the best ways that an individual can be supportive of VMBA.
VMBA is the largest single state mountain bike association in the country. What would you say is your biggest success in making this happen that other states could adopt as they build out their networks?
A few things have contributed to our membership growth. First and foremost, it’s the trails. Our Chapters have been honing their craft and have created over 900 miles of awesome singletrack that people want to support. In addition, we’ve developed a few other motivating reasons for folks to become a member, beyond wanting to support the trails they ride and access they enjoy. One major driver is our Member Benefits program, which provides VMBA members deals and discounts to over 100 businesses across the State and complimentary lift tickets to 5 all-season resort partners. Another is the colored VMBA strip that each member receives and shows publicly that you support riding in Vermont - nothing like a little peer pressure! Lastly, we’ve benefited tremendously from partnerships with other Vermont organizations that help us promote our mission through co-branding and other collaborations. Our partnership with Bivo is a perfect example of that in action!