Thursday, August 4

Changing the Culture

Craig Skillicorn & I recently attended the MTB Development Conference in Living Springs, ChCh. Many good things came out of the weekend, not least the opportunity to swap notes with many trail-building mtb enthusiasts from around the country.

From Southland to the Far North, there are some amazing tracks being created - sometimes by a few dedicated individuals, others by clubs that, through corporate involvement, have turnovers in excess of $100,000 p.a. I, for one, can't wait to throw my bike on the back and do a tour of all that's good in NZ singletrack. And that would have to be a long tour!

One resource I'll avail myself of is, brainchild of Hawke's Bay MTB Club Pres. Don Bricknall.
The idea behind this website is to enable mtbers from 'out of town' to hook up with locals to get the best out of the riding to be had in that area. With the explosion in track-building & mtb parks in recent years, what better way to ensure you don't miss out on the newest trails? Not to mention the best way to ride 'em!
And, in return, I get to show off the best of what we have to offer when visitors come to Tasman :-)

Another thing I took from the conference was the Christchurch Singletrack Club's observation that, over 2-3 years, they had helped effect a change of culture with regard to people riding wet tracks. The Port Hills tracks suffer badly from being ridden when wet and the burden of track maintenance was becoming unsustainable, esp. over winter.
Through a process of education and signage, they have significantly reduced the wear'n'tear of the Port Hill's trail network making for better riding for everyone when the time is right.

So what about Kaiteriteri...?

In part, the track damage we suffered this May-June was of our own making.
In trumpeting our all-weather tracks, we invited people to come riding all year round. While numbers were still relatively low - and rainfalls were normal - this generally held true. Those few areas that got muddy could be attributed to failings in track design or unanticipated seepage. Where possible, we carried out remedial work to alleviate the problem.

But the wettest Autumn in decades (ever?) and high Park usage meant that minor problem areas became majors and previously sound surfaces started to cut up. The run-up to our 6 Hr event saw many people out pre-racing the route, even during times of heavy rain.
Also, as other tracks around the Nelson area became too boggy, people increasingly came to Kaiteriteri for their fix. Attempts to close some of the worst affected tracks with tape were unsuccessful as individuals continued to ride the race circuit.

In the event, a week's postponement and fine weather meant that our 6 Hr went ahead and was enjoyed by all. But not before our volunteers had put in a power of work (see previous post) and are still left with a lot of damage to repair.

So it seems to us a change of culture amongst those who use the Mountain Bike Park might also be a good thing.

The first place to start is to ensure everyone is aware of the Mountain Bikers Code. It pops up from time to time in publications - it's even on our map board - but when was the last time you actually read it?
We'd like everyone to take note of Respect the Track: Avoid riding in the mud and rain.
It's included for a very good reason. Riding in the wet damages track surfaces. Once ruts or bogs have developed, they'll go on growing unless or until someone puts in the hours to clean them up.
At Kaiteriteri, that means volunteers. Volunteers aren't people who sit at home waiting for the maintenance call-up. We're people who much prefer riding to working. But we also accept that tracks don't build & maintain themselves. We're lucky to have so many people in our small region who do come regularly to working bees and we've made great gains in a short time because of that.

But they still represent only a small fraction of the number of people who use the Park.

What we would like all users to consider next time they're contemplating a ride in the Park during or immediately after rain is:
- does my need to ride wet tracks outweigh the 'needs' of the volunteers (who would far rather be building new track than fixing existing ones)?
- am I willing to be one of those that contributes to Park maintenance?

You might not see the connection between riding & volunteering but it was a recurring theme to come up at the Conference - how to engage more of our mtb population in track building & maintenance? It's something every club struggles with. Our management committee isn't a club but the same challenge applies. At Kaiteriteri we offer incentives like cash vouchers for attendance (sponsored by Coppins Outdoors) and provide tools on-site so you can 'ride to work', if preferred.

But that's not what really motivates our volunteers. To a person, they are individuals who want to give something back. They know, deep down, that trail pixies aren't building tracks while they sleep. They understand that unless tracks are maintained, they'll go on deteriorating until they become unrideable. And they know that when they ride other tracks elsewhere, there are people who share those values carrying out exactly the same work.
It also helps that, every Sunday morning when we gather for our working bees, we have a lot of fun and many friendships are made in the process :-)

The work can include clearing track-side vegetation, swinging a grubber, pulling a rake. Even bringing some baking counts as a much-appreciated contribution! If you think you would like to join us, check the website calendar for meet details and/or make sure we have your email address on our volunteer database.

And on a related theme, please note that the middle section of Shady Lady is closed for maintenance. A drain on the lower switchback blocked and, as a consequence, water has been running down the track. With traffic this has turned into one muddy mess!
We'll get to it as soon as possible but, in the meantime, you are free to use the Kimi Ora walking tracks to bypass this section (please observe their request to RIDE SLOWLY).

On a more positive note, Karl Thompson is back at the Park with his digger. We spent a couple of days doing maintenance on some of the tracks - we hope you notice! - before making a start on our next scheduled track.

But more on that later...

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