Three inches of fresh powdery snow covered the forest floor at Alum Creek State Park near Columbus, Ohio, but that did not deter the scheduled trail work that the Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization (C.O.M.B.O) had in mind.
Today’s goal: To replace an old dilapidated bridge with a newly constructed one.
This wasn’t just any makeshift bridge though. It had been carefully engineered to withstand the shifting loads of the passing bikes and to persevere the extreme conditions of mother nature. Three mammoth trusses were prefabricated ahead of time and required 10 volunteers to carry them through the forest where they would be assembled into one solid structure. The long wooden pieces appeared to be 25 to 30 feet in length and had to be carefully woven through the trees and across the terrain.
During the winter many mountain bikers, myself included, hibernate indoors but this is a great time to get out and help build and fix the trails that you love to ride on.
Gregg Soster, the president of C.O.M.B.O., emphasizes, “Dead of winter is the best time to build because you can see the topography, there’s not much else going on. You’re not competing with a bunch of events. It’s a good time to be out here.”
15-20 workers showed up to help out. They had various levels of skill and involvement with the organization, but showed up to help give back to the trail that they had ridden so many miles on. It’s amazing how much work goes in to keeping these paths rideable. The organization has to deal with the wear-and-tear of the bikes, erosion, foliage growth, tending to man-made features like log piles and bridges and, unfortunately, even vandalism.
As part of being on the Combo Race Team, I am required to volunteer for 10 hours with the organization. I probably contributed about 15 hours of work in 2013 and I want to make sure I get my hours in early in this season. It gets difficult for me to volunteer during the summer when I am spending a large percentage of my free-time training for races.
I had volunteered occasionally before I was on the team because I really respect what C.O.M.B.O. does for the local mountain bike community. However, the team’s required volunteer hours have definitely given me the kick in the keister that I needed to get more involved.
According to Soster, the turnout is higher in the fall.
“The bike shops were bringing anywhere from 35 to 55 people. We got a lot of work done. In the wintertime it’s tough. People have other priorities so today it was a lower turnout than I had hoped but we have enough people to get the job done.”
The trail needs you. C.O.M.B.O. needs you. Please come out and volunteer. That’s how our trails get better. That’s how we get more miles of trail. Every hour you contribute is helpful. If you live in a different city, then find your local trail builders and see how you can help.
The cool thing is… you might actually meet some great people and make new friends while you work.
Even though the temperature was hovering in the 20s, it really was nice outside. The forest was serene and the workload helped keep you warm.
Once the trusses were in place we were able to attach the decking to the top of the bridge. An army of drills were employed to screw in the planks and we were able to have the main structure assembled in about an hour.
If you ask me, this is a very important bridge on the trail. It doesn’t just help you cross a creek. It adds to the fun factor. The bridge sits at the bottom of a fast decent. On the old bridge, there was a small jump at the end of the bridge that allowed you to turn all that free downhill speed into flight. The new design will include a jump at the end because they didn’t want to lose the fun factor. This could turn out to be more entertaining because the new bridge is sturdier and might allow the riders to go faster and get more air.
After our morning of work, I’d say the bridge is about 75% complete. I have a feeling that Gregg will be over to work on the bridge before the next trail day. He lives near the trail and I have seen him out working by himself on many occasions. He really is an asset to local mountain bike community. I wanted to know what motivated him to be such a good steward to the trail.
“I like riding things that I just built and seeing how it feels and thinking about the next big project,” said Soster. “There’s a sense of accomplishment when you do something like this and that’s what I get out of it. And, then a sense of community, you know. It’s a betterment for the whole community. You get something out of that.”
I agree with Gregg. Their is great satisfaction in cutting in a new trail or rebuilding a log pile or bridge and then riding over it later. It’s fun to hear the debate about how best to create these new features. There are so many factors that go into everything they build – the technical challenge, whether it flows, is it fun, how will riders of different skill levels tackle it and safety.
Gregg has been working with C.O.M.B.O. for 14 years. He will soon be stepping down as president and relinquishing most of his duties to others in the group.
“The main reason I’m stepping back is I think I’ve taken on too many responsibilities that should be spread across the organization. And consequently, the organization is dependent on a very small number of people and I think by stepping back it’s going to force the organization to mature and more people to step in and that includes trail building, administrative work, website work, anything you want to do, PR, marketing… whatever the role might be.”
So this is your chance. C.O.M.B.O. needs you now more than ever. You don’t have to be president. They also need web guys and accountants. Think about what skills you have and how you can apply them to the trails.
I guess what I’m say is this… No matter where you are in the country, find your local trail group and help out. More trails + better trails = more fun. The off-season is a great time to get involved.
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More Photos From Our Bridge Building Day: