While we all try to get through our day-to-day lives in these crazy times, there are many aspects of our outside lives that are being affected by all of this too. We all love to ride bikes and our ability to get outside (for now at least) is great, but trails still need to be taken care of. We talked to our local https://woodrivertrailscoalition.org/ Executive Director, Sara Gress about the challenges and successes that the WRTC has been through in the last few months.
What is the biggest affect COVID-19 has had on local trails and work that is typically done?
In terms of the impact on trails, our trail system is seeing a major increase in usage. Our trailhead parking lots are packed. Maybe some people are not carpooling due to COVID, but many still seem to be and our parking lots are still full on the weekends. It’s all anecdotal at this point, but it sure seems busier. Luckily, most of our trailheads access large trail systems that allow for people to spread out. Once you get past the trailhead by a mile or two, you’re usually alone.
As for trail work, it’s very easy to socially distance and do the work. Honestly, the biggest change is having to wear a mask while in vehicles together. Other than that, it feels fairly normal when you’re out in the woods, digging in the dirt.
Were any trail systems closed during the major part of the shutdown?
Nope. Thankfully, our Forest Service Ranger District (Ketchum) didn’t feel the need to close any trails, and neither did the Bureau of Land Management.
What did the WRTC do to help get the word our on what people could and couldn’t do during the stay at home order?
We put together some COVID guidelines specifically for single-track trail usage in English and Spanish. There was a lot of vague information out there, so we want to give people specific direction. For example, when we weren’t supposed to be going anywhere unless it was necessary, we told people to ride or hike from their front door, as in don’t drive anywhere. We are so lucky that this is possible here, for the most part. It seemed like people heeded this until the stay at home order was lifted by the governor.
What adjustments has the WRTC had to make in this trying time?
After a few weeks of agonizing in March, we decided to launch our bike raffle as planned in mid-April. It was well-received. We realized that we needed to stay the course, the trails weren’t going to maintain themselves, and that trail work adapts well to COVID. Since then, we’ve been operating fairly “normally”, with messaging changes, of course.
Our major tweak is not providing food at volunteer events, which is a bummer since Cameron makes some mean tacos. We are also keeping a watchful eye on COVID news in Idaho. We put together a contingency plan for each stage of re-opening, so we aren’t scrambling if things change (and they probably will).
How has it affected relationships with USFS and the BLM?
Not at all. I called the USFS a few more times than normal, but that’s about it.
How has COVID-19 affected trail users? Are there more people on the trails or less?
Anecdotally, it seems like WAY more people are out there. It is one of the few things that feels safe right now. I’m happy to see people outside, taking care of their mental and physical health. Our numbers are still low enough that the increase isn’t concerning from a social distancing or management standpoint. Not yet, anyway.
The bike industry is booming right now. Are you seeing that in your area?
You can’t find a mountain bike in stock anywhere right now, or so it seems. So yeah, bikes are exploding. Which means it’s on us to educate new users on proper trail etiquette. Our trail community has historically gotten along really well, we’d like to keep it that way!
Has it affected donations/membership levels?
Hard to tell because this is our first year running a bike raffle that is coupled with a membership drive. Quite a few donors in March and April mentioned that the trails were keeping them sane during the insanity. So, I think overall, the pandemic has really driven it home to people that our trails and open spaces are a precious and vital resource.
Are there possibly more e-bikes out now?
Yes? They are the only bikes in stock in town right now. I think we will see an increase in eMTBs since they are, quite frankly, fun and fast. The WRTC has two eMTBs and a Bob trailer we use for hauling in tools to project sites and they are invaluable. Efficient and useful with minimal training, unlike a dirt bike, which is far more dangerous for untrained/unskilled staff to use to haul large, heavy things into the woods. They are changing how we view doing projects and work far from the trailhead, it really opens up new possibilities.
We would like to give a special thanks to Sara for taking the time to answer our questions and for all the hard work the she and the WRTC put into our trails! Currently they are holding a raffle to win a Kona Process 134 CR 29er, a $250 Club Ride gift certificate, and a Dometic fridge for your weekend adventures. Click the link below to support their cause!