Volunteers ready to celebrate their work on National Trails Day
The volunteer labor force that rebuilds mountain bike trails in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest will have a double celebration on Saturday, after their morning shift in the woods.
Their free lunch at the head of the John Muir Mountain Bike Trails south of Palmyra will be part of the thousands of National Trails Day events around the country, on the 20th anniversary of the annual outdoor recognition created by the American Hiking Society.
It's also a small payment for the work completed over 12 Saturdays (and a couple Sundays) of digging, brushing, cutting, raking, lifting and packing as part of the Especially Crazy Irregular Trail Building Crew. Their 2012 work season, which started in March, comes to an end.
This spring, the crew rerouted several miles of trail on the Emma Carlin loops, starting at the trailhead off Highway Z.
Mountain bikers will find fresh single-track twisting up the steep hills, instead of the hard-packed, rutted, cement-like surface many had avoided.
The new routes follow the mountain bike trail design standards set by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and continue a decade of improvements that made the trails in the Southern Kettle more rideable and sustainable. More than 50 miles of trail has been improved in the past decade, with the volunteer labor force working in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
"It's tens of thousands of dollars, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars in volunteer labor," said Paul Sandgren, superintendent of the Southern Kettle Moraine.
"It's so much better riding, and so much more sustainable," he said. "We had ruts that were two-feet deep. The water is going off the trail now, and the trail tread is holding up."
Before the work gained traction a decade ago, Sandgren counted 25 crashes each year that led to a biker being taken away by ambulance. In 2011, there were three crashes of that severity.
"To me, that's a reflection on the fact that the trail has been improved," Sandgren said.
Dave Mangan, a Milwaukee business manager, leads the Crazy Irregular crew. He sends weekly emails detailing the upcoming work days, and greets the couple dozen volunteers who arrive in the chilly mornings with work gloves and coffee mugs.
Mangan describes the project for the day, distributes the tools and leads the hike to the work site. It's taken time, but the usual mix of rookies and veterans works with remarkable efficiency.
With two-dozen people swinging beefy rakes and axes – McLeods and Pulaskis – the scene has the look of "organized chaos," as Mangan describes it. It's actually a "finely tuned machine."
In a few hours, a poorly designed and maintained section of trail is replaced with a fresh patch of dirt path.
The payoff comes later; not the National Trails Day lunch, but the ride on the improved trail. The volunteers ride with a sense of ownership.
"There's a feeling that this is my trail," Mangan said. "I worked on it."
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