Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Most people first experience their local NEMBA chapter through a chapter sponsored ride. Hopefully they have a good experience and end up coming back for more rides and other events, such as trail work days.. For many mountain bikers, a weekly chapter ride, attending a special event, and paying annual dues is the extent of their participation in their local chapter. There are other benefits your local NEMBA chapter brings to the table that might not be completely obvious, though, and these benefits are why you might want to consider volunteering time to them, in addition to your annual dues.
Sure, your local chapter organizes group rides so you can get together with other awesome mountain bikers just like you, but the importance of your chapter runs much deeper than organizing group rides. Your local chapter’s most important role in mountain biking comes in the form of advocacy for trail access. Trail access has always been a huge issue for mountain bikers, and lately there has been an increase in trail user conflicts all around the country. In the past, we only heard stories about trail sabotage occurring on trails on the West Coast, where a much greater level of trail use conflict occurs, but in the past couple years, we have encountered several cases of booby traps on our own trails here in New England. Here in MA, we have been blindsided by some trail closures and restrictions by state agencies that seemingly came out of the blue. On a more positive note, some of our local independent groups of mountain bikers have recently partnered with NEMBA to work with state agencies to create agreements to officially recognize existing trails on state lands, add them to official trail maps,and allow us to maintain the trails. Situations like these truly reinforce the importance of NEMBA in fostering mountain bikers’ rights to share the trails with other users.
The NEMBA umbrella provides a solid support structure for local chapters to fight trail closures and gain trail access. NEMBA is recognized by most regional landowners and land managers as an organization that promotes responsible trail usage and maintenance. They know that if they sign a land usage agreement with NEMBA, NEMBA will uphold their promise to build appropriate trails and maintain them. Land owners and managers are much more willing to work with an organization that has a solid reputation than they are to work with just a group of seemingly random individuals who want to build trails. NEMBA also provides resources to help local chapters obtain grants and other funding sources, trail building schools, and summits to join mountain bikers from all over to discuss the next biggest ideas in mountain biking.
Another important aspect to consider is that NEMBA and its chapters can only be as great as the effort its members put into it. NEMBA is a bare bones non-profit, covering almost all of New England, and only has two paid staff members. Everyone else representing NEMBA is a volunteer. NEMBA relies heavily on its members to lead weekly rides, organize events and help to fill the roles necessary to run events, or to work with local and state agencies for trail access. So the next time you find yourself asking “When is NEMBA going to fix that section of trail,” or “When is NEMBA going to organize a ride on Tuesday nights, when I’m actually free,” remember, that you are NEMBA. Talk to your chapter officers and volunteer to organize a trail work day to fix that muddy section of trail or to lead a ride on Tuesday nights. If you live near a trail system that you enjoy riding, build a relationship with the land manager and see if there’s anything NEMBA can do to help maintain trails there. Be creative. If you feel NEMBA could benefit from one of your special skills, talk to your chapter officers to see how that skill can be utilized. If everyone just stands back and waits for someone else to take the initiative to do something, nothing happens and we end up with an inactive and lackluster chapter. Your chapter officers love fresh ideas and initiatives, so don’t be afraid to approach them with your thoughts! They are there to help you make great things happen!