Mountain Bike Trail Associations in Indiana

 

How should a mountain bike advocacy group organize?

To the average mountain biker all mountain bike advocacy groups may look the same, but there are many different ways for mountain bike advocates to organize. Why is that? Isn’t there an optimal way for all groups to organize?

There are many factors that may drive groups to organize in different ways.

The Land Manger/s you are working with: Public Lands are managed differently depending on the specific land management agency. While there are many other land managers, typical land managers are:

  • Local Parks are likely under your city or county government. Since these are local managed and governed, they are more likely to want to work with local volunteers or a local group.
  • State Parks and Forests are underneath the State government. They have an overall Statewide Leadership. But each property also has a local manager. The tendency is for the Local Property Manager to want to work with a local group and the overall Agency likely wants to work with a Statewide group.
  • National Parks and Forests. These properties get more complicated. They have local managers, regional directors, and then National Leadership. Advocacy efforts with these agencies could require a combination of a local, regional, and national effort.

 

In almost all the scenarios each property has a Land Manager. Each park manager is going to be different and the way they interact with volunteers and advocates can impact how volunteers need to organize.

  • Hands on Manager: These park managers want themselves or their staff to be directly involved in the volunteer efforts on their properties. These managers may not even require the mountain bike volunteers to be part of a formal group. They can just be just park volunteers.
  • Hands off Manager: These managers don’t have staff or time to be involved in the construction or maintenance of mountain bike trails on their property. But they are still accountable for them. These managers typically want a formal organization to be in place that can manage the volunteers in a way that is in alignment with the Park’s mission. In these cases, there is typically a person or small group that the Park Manager will communicate with, and that person/group will lead the volunteers.

 

Insurance is another important factor that plays into how groups organize.

  • Smaller parks may not require that there is a group that has its own insurance. This is typically only the case when the volunteers are not part of a formal group, and they are working as park volunteers.
  • But many agencies require the volunteers to be part of a group that has its own insurance. To get insurance the group needs to be a formal group which adds a layer of complexity that many trail builders don’t want to deal with. The insurance cost and organization burdens, often drive local trail groups to band together with other local / state groups to from a bigger organization. This helps share the cost of insurance and the complexity of managing a formal group.

 

Tax Exempt Status it often desirable. There are two main benefits of being a 501 c (3). Maintaining 501 c (3) status adds another layer of complexity, and non-trail building tasks.

  • Avoiding Taxes: Donors can make tax deductible donations and the organization doesn’t have to pay sales tax.
  • Applying for Grants: Most grants that mountain bike groups apply for will only award grants to 501 c (3) organizations.

Advocacy vs Volunteer: One challenge for mountain bike organizations is that they are typically asked to do two very different things. It can be difficult to organize a mountain bike group to do both well.

  • Advocacy: Having trails to build and maintain (and protecting access to those trails) requires advocacy efforts. Meetings with local park leadership and public officials. Rallying mountain bikers to engage in public comments and attend public meetings. Educating the mountain bike community. Attending meetings and engaging with other groups. These are some of the efforts that must happen to have access for mountain bike trails.
  • Volunteering: This is the most visible effort and really is what most mountain bikers would rather do. Building and maintaining trails is typically more fun than sitting in meetings. But the skills need to run volunteer efforts are very different from the skills need to advocate.

 

Membership

  • Local: Most people would rather join a local group. They want to ensure their membership Funds are used in their area and want to know the leadership of the group on a personal level.
  • State/National: Some want to be a part of something bigger. They know that decisions made at the State or Federal level could impact their local trails and that bigger organizations may have resources that a local group doesn’t have.

 

With this background, Let’s look at how HMBA has and currently is organized.

Toward the end of the 1990’s a social mountain bike club in Indianapolis saw the continued loss of mountain bike trail access. As a result, this group started to engage in mountain bike advocacy, looking both in Indianapolis and at DNR properties South of Indy. They linked up with other mountain bike advocates throughout the State. Around 2003 the efforts of these advocates (both political and with the DNR) resulted in John Goss, DNR Director, deciding to give mountain bikers access to DNR property. Since this was a top-down process the DNR wanted to work with one Statewide group, rather and a bunch of local groups. So, the Indy Spoke Breakers merged some of the statewide mountain bike advocates and rebranded as the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association (HMBA), and HMBA got to work building trails at Brown County and Versailles State Parks.

The DNR did require HMBA to have its own insurance, and at the time the best way to get insurance was for HMB to become a 501 C (3) and then become an IMBA chapter. This gave us access to IMBA insurance program.

Being a 501 C (3) also was needed in 2005, when HMBA applied for a $150,000 Recreational Trails Program Grant. This was the first of many grants HMBA received. These grants build trails at Brown County, Versailles, O’Bannon, Harmonie, and Southwestway Parks.

As trails were built throughout Indiana, under the HMBA umbrella, HMBA also worked to develop local volunteers to maintain the trails once the grant projects were complete. At Versailles, Harmonie, and O’Bannon Woods, those volunteers not only maintained the trails HMBA built with grants, but then continued to build more trails.

Over time these local groups developed, not just in their trail building abilities, but also in their relationships with local park staff. Over time the Local DNR Property Managers began to work closely with the local groups and began to view them as their groups.

There are several paths that these local groups can go as they develop into their own organizations. They can remain under HMBA as a Chapter, become their own 501 C (3), or roll into another local group.

Harmonie State Park: HMBA built 2 trails at Harmonie State Park. Then the local volunteers rolled the Evansville Mountain Bike Association (EMBA), which was a preexisting group in the Evansville area.

Versailles State Park: HMBA built 7 trails at Versailles (East Side). Then the local volunteers formed the Southeast Indiana Mountain Bike Association as a 501 c (3) and took on both trail maintenance and trail expansion at Versailles.

How groups organize is often based on what approach is best for the current land managers. The best way to organize may change over time based on the land manager and other local/statewide challenges.

The important thing to understand is that while we have many mountain bike advocacy groups throughout the State that behind the scenes, the mountain bike advocates, and trail builders still work together. We are all working to develop and maintain trails throughout the State and even throughout the Region.

As mountain bikers and advocates we are all on the same team!

HMBA moving forward.

This sets ups up to understand How HMBA is organizing moving forward. HMBA is shifting to be made up of strong Chapters that work together under the banner of the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association.

  • The chapters are:
  • INDY-HMBA
  • O’Bannon Woods Mountain Bike
  • Tippecanoe Mountain Bike Association

These groups will share costs on insurance and 501 operations.

The Brown County Mountain Bike Association has formed their own 501 C (3). They will focus on Brown County State Park, Yellowwood State Forest, the Hickory Ridge region of Hoosier National Forest, as well as some local parks. This is a pretty big area and being their own 501 c (3) will allow them focus on maintaining existing trails and looking to provide more opportunities moving forward.

 

What does this mean to you as an individual Mountain Biker?

There has never been a better time to be a mountain biker in Indiana, over the past couple decades, all of the mountain bike organizations in Indiana, and throughout the whole country, have been successful in advocating for and then building more mountain bike trails. And as have gotten better and better at building these trails. As we have built more and more trails, the effort to maintain these trails has increased. No one group can carry the load to continue to build more trails while maintaining what we have. As a mountain biker, every new group (whether a chapter of an existing group, or their own stand-alone organization) means more band width to support more trails.

It also helps you do the most basic thing that you can do to support mountain bike advocacy. That is to Join. Quite honestly, if you call yourself a mountain biker, you really need to be a member of a mountain bike advocacy group. While the membership funds provide funding for your local trail builders, the biggest reason to join, is to give your mountain bike advocacy groups more political leverage. We are often asked how big our group is, when talking to public officials. The bigger our voice the easier it is to get the political support we need to continue to stay ahead of the growing need for trails.

Having many groups gives you the opportunity to pick the group you feel the best about being a part of. If you want to support your local trails, join a local group. If you want to support a bigger trail system, join those groups. While you can go beyond just joining and support your trails through donations or volunteering, it’s important that you are a member of a mountain bike advocacy organization.

 

Indiana Mountain Bike Advocacy Groups

If you are unsure which group supports your favorite trail, www.trailforks.com is a great tool to find out. Trail Forks lists the local trail association for each trail.

Indiana Mountain Bike Associations and Trail Groups

 

I moved to Indiana in 1998, just in time to see trails closing to mountain bikers in Indianapolis. Living in Indiana, as an outdoor enthusiast, required getting involved to develop the recreational assets needed for my quality of life. In the past 25 years, I have been involved in building over 100 miles of trails and am proud of the impact these trails have and will continue to have in Indiana.

But an opportunity at work came up the end of last year in Colorado. I am typing this message from my new home in the Colorado Springs area. Heather Leigh and I are excited about our next adventures in the mountains of Colorado.

I will never be able to adequately thank all of you who have been involved in moving mountain biking forward in Indiana. But, please know I have appreciated the support from the mountain bike community over the past 25 years in Indiana. We have made so much progress and everyone’s help has been important.

My ask of you is to stay (or get) involved and help mountain bike opportunities in Indiana continue to advance. Join your local mountain bike organization, volunteer, and make sure your elected officials know how important outdoor recreation is to quality of life in Indiana. There is so much more potential for mountain biking in Indiana.

Paul Arlinghaus

 

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