Women of Dirt

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

By Paula Burton

I always scour the mountain biking magazines for articles about access and trail builders. 

I read them more than once, wonderful stories about trails and trail builders around the country and world.  I keep waiting for one article, the article about women designing and building trails.   Once in a while IMBA has a short blurb about their traveling trail crew, a couple driving around in a brightly painted Subaru, and I'd like to give a shout out to Jill and Jen and the rest of the IMBA Trail Care Crew women. But I wanted to hear about women working on trails in the northeast.  

I decided to write that story myself.  Here is the story of three women and their journey on the trails.

Caroline Cardiasmenos
               Greater Boston NEMBA

Caroline "dove right in" to trail work this past year.  After her terms as president of North East Bicycle Club (NEBC) and as Director of NEBC's Women's Development Team ended, Caroline found herself with some free time on her hands. Last May was her first experience building a trail.  She attended the NEMBA regional trail school in Charlemont, which opened her eyes to sustainable trails.  Caroline had so much fun at the trail school that she signed up for the Highland Bike Park Trail Fest.  After spending two days building a mile of a downhill flow cross-country trail, Caroline and her friends rode the trail. " What an experience!"

This fall, she helped to build an extensive boardwalk on the "Swamp Trail" at Landlocked Forest in MA. This was a major undertaking for NEMBA, necessitating closing a lane of a major highway and the efforts of many volunteers.  Caroline feels the new trail was well worth the effort, replacing a wet, rooty, and unsustainable section of trail with a great new connection trail.

"There is always something for everyone to do " says Caroline.  Cutting brush, digging, carrying boards, all provide a variety of tasks. On one of the work days, she was nursing a sore back, but after talking to the leader, she was still able to make a meaningful contribution to the project, prepping bolt sets and hammering nails. 

"Women do feel intimidated about doing trail work, maybe they are unfamiliar with tools, but everyone is helpful and welcoming."  Taking the trail school gave Caroline the confidence to help provide guidance to others during later projects.

While Caroline doesn't see herself doing heavy boulder lifting or running a chainsaw, she does think that she will be able to lead a trail project in the near future.  That's if she has time.  Always busy, she is active with the NEMBA bike patrol and also with the Cycle Loft Race Team. I am sure we will be seeing more of Caroline on the trails, whether she is patrolling, racing, building trail, or just going for a ride.   "I will always make time for trail building," she says.  "It's hugely important and rewarding".

Kyaiera Tucker
               Fairfield County NEMBA

"When I was a teenager I asked my mom for a mountain bike. She told me no riding without giving back to where you ride."  Kyaiera rode at Mianus River Park, an urban oasis and a popular destination for mountain bikers. "We didn't really know what we were doing then at the park. Just some clipping and picking up sticks, but it was good to be outside and good to be giving back to the park."  Her mother installed an ethic of being part of the solution not the problem, and it didn't matter if you were a hiker or mountain biker. 

Fast forward to today. She joined Friends of Mianus, married Ryan Tucker (President of the new FC chapter), and learned to mountain bike.  On one of the Friends trail days, she worked with Dave Francefort to armor a muddy section of trail with rocks.  She was hooked! "Fitting the rocks together is like a giant puzzle."

Not long after, Kyaiera, Ryan, and Dave attended a CT Chapter Trail School.  I recruited Ryan and Dave as instructors, but noticed right away that Kay had an excellent eye for design and a wonderful way of communicating with others. She is a high school English teacher after all and is willing to put those skills to work on the trails.  Recently, under her leadership, the Fairfield Country NEMBA held its own trail school for the Aspetuck Land Trust (ALT), a land manager of thousands of acres including Trout Brook Valley.  While mountain biking is allowed on some of the trails, controversy over the impact of mountain biking continues. Several times, members of the ALT board and their trail stewards have advocated complete closures.  Presently, due to the efforts of NEMBA over the years and more specifically the new chapter, relations have greatly improved, and as those relations have improved, so have the trails. At the FC NEMBA trail school, even some of the more resistant hiking- only folks opened their minds to "trail science" and to building sustainable trails.

"Of course getting a diverse group, young, old, mountain bikers, and hikers, cooperating to move rocks and bench trail creates understanding and respect."  Kyaiera enjoys the tangible rewards of building trail, and seeing the completion from the advocacy (getting permission to build) to riding and hiking the new trail.  Designing a trail is quite a process. " You start with a blank canvas, and go from there. "  Kay, Ryan, and Dave go out, walk around. Each one thinks of where the treadway should go. Then the three of them decide together with much discussion.  The final trail design and build reflects the talents of the three of them. 

She is most proud of her design work at Trout Brook (the largest of ALT properties). In the northern section of the park, an unsustainable trail going near a vernal pool and a rare amphibian habitat was closed and a new trail was needed to make a loop with existing trails.  Besides being sustainable, the new section traverses large slabs of granite, and has a flow that mountain bikers find most enjoyable.  Hikers enjoy the new trail too, since it opens up new views.  Her mother and sister put in a few hours helping build the new trail, so the trail work ethic continues in the family.

For the future, another blank canvas is waiting at Farrington, an unused parcel of land just waiting for some new awesome trails to be designed and built.  And there are more trail projects in the pipeline at Trout Brook and Huntington. Thanks for all the hard work, Kyaiera. Can't wait to ride the new trails!

Ruth Wheeler
          Berkshire NEMBA

"I first did trail work at Kennedy Park in Lenox. Cliff, my husband, and my dog would head out and clear branches and clip brush as early as 1987.  We didn't really have any approval, since there wasn't any agency to give approval.  Kennedy Park is an old abandoned estate where cars and motorcycles would ride through. , The old roads in there, once over grown and eroded, are now good trails thanks to many hours of work of volunteers and some paid help.  Not too many people used the park in the 80's and early 90's. My husband and I owned a bike shop in town in those days, and I would lead rides every Thursday night for the women. "  Ruth has focused her energies on Kennedy Park, and while she loves walking the dog, mountain biking, and cross country skiing in the park, she is most passionate about keeping the trails in good shape.

"Over time, my efforts were noticed, and I was asked to join the Kennedy Park Commission which oversees the trails. More and more people were using the park now, and the trails needed water bars and boardwalks. My husband and I built a new single-track trail from scratch, the Log Hop Trail. "

Five years ago, Ruth attended NEMBA Trail School in Pittsfield, and learned how to build a boardwalk.  She is most proud of learning carpentry skills including how to use power tools.  Recently, she led a group of volunteers at Kennedy in building a boardwalk. She has also used these skills to do work on her house.  "More women should come out and volunteer. It is sometimes a little tough to get started if you're a woman, but it's a wonderful thing to do. I look back and see a project I did three years ago and it is still holding up and looks great. That's why I do this."

From designing sustainable treadway, to moving rocks, running chainsaws and power drills, hammering nails,  building boardwalks, leading volunteers, and teaching others to do trail work, yes, ladies, we can do it all.