A few days ago I was biking up Sidewinder when I noticed that a usually narrow, rickety bridge I loathe had been replaced by a wider, sturdy one. Saying a quiet “thank you” to the trail gods for great maintenance, I carried on my merry way and had a great evening of mountain biking.
And then I realized that despite having mountain biked for the last two years, I’ve never helped in the process of building or maintaining a trail. What a chump.
So here I am on a warm evening mid-May in the mountains above Fernie rocking a pair of floral garden gloves with a heavy-duty garden hoe in hand. I’m volunteering with the Fernie Trails Alliance and tonight we’re working the Uprooted trail.
The FTA is an organization that manages the 300 km of multi-use, non-motorized trails in the Fernie area. Not only does it maintain the trails, but it also looks after all land use agreements and make it possible for people like me to access the trails whenever I please.
We arrive on the trail and the 12 volunteers empty the truck full of shovels, garden hoes and chainsaws. Our job is laid out for us; build a berm, reroute around a muddy section and make the trail flow just a little bit better.
And then we dig.
I consider myself to be in somewhat decent shape, but shovelling dirt is no easy feat. As we begin the work I chat with FTA Board of Directors and Fernie Mountain Bike Club (FMBC) member Bernie Pulsifer about trail building.
Bernie has watched the multi-use trails in Fernie grow and morph into an elaborate system in his last 15 years of mountain biking. He and other volunteers are out every Thursday night for maintenance.
“If you use the trails you should try to help maintain them,” he says as he digs up some old roots. And it’s true; every year the trails have a new level of wear and tear to them and without maintenance the trees, weeds and streams would take them back.
I’m working with Bernie and a couple of others to reroute the trail above a wet section and within minutes I can see the transformation take place. In an hour the echo of chainsaws chopping stumps has ended and I take a moment to lean on my tool (or five moments, I can’t remember) to talk with Johnny Shaw.
Johnny, Chair of the Trail maintenance Committee, wears a pair of chainsaw pants and has an eye for great trails.
“Our main motivation [with FTA] is to make trails so they are sustainable,” he says. “And of course, it’s nice to ride something that you’ve fixed up.”
Further down the trail Mitch, long-time volunteer and notorious Fernie adventurer, finds a halved tree trunk that proves perfect for a jump feature. After ensuring its stability with nearby rocks and dirt he tells me I had better hit it on my way down.
We head back to the trucks and have a few cold drinks before Mitch drives Ben and I to the top of Uprooted.
We start the bike down and I love that it’s spring. I love that the sun is out and setting on the Lizard Range; I love that the raspberry bushes are blooming and the air is warm.
As we reach the newly maintained section of the trail and head downhill towards the Fernie Pub (for pints and nachos) I remember something Bernie said to me earlier in the evening about trail maintenance.
“After you’ve done it, you ride the trails a little differently,” he said. “You almost feel like you’re a part of the trail.”
It’s true. My hands are slightly more callused, there’s rocks in my shoes and dirt beneath my fingernails, but I’m riding a section of trail that I helped build and that’s a pretty neat feeling.
The FTA and its volunteers truly deserve the title of Trail Gods, and next week I plan on joining them again.
Member organizations for the FTA include FMBC, Fernie Trails and Ski Touring Association, Fernie Nordic Society, Fernie Alpine Resort, Island lake Lodge, Fernie Flyers and Fernie TransRockies Society. The FTA invites you out Thursday nights for trail maintenance. There are numerous volunteer opportunities in Fernie, especially during the summer months. Consider lending a hand by offering your time this year!