Northwest Trail Alliance Increases Traction with Membership and New Leadership

By Üma Kleppinger

Kids of all ages have a blast at Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day. Photo by NW Trail Alliance Photo by NW Trail Alliance

Kids of all ages have a blast at Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day.

As mountain biking demands increase in the Portland metropolitan and surrounding areas, the need for more organized community participation also increases. The Northwest Trail Alliance (formerly Portland Urban Mountain Pedalers) has been getting mountain bikers together to advocate for, plan, build, maintain and ride on the trails they love since 1988. Based in Portland, Ore., the nonprofit organization is one of the Northwest’s leading mountain bike advocacy and trail stewardship groups across a wide radius around the Rose City: from Forest Park and Powell Butte within city limits, to the southern foothills of Mount St. Helens, to the western slopes of Mount Hood, to Tillamook State Forest and Scappoose.

Created in 1988 by a grassroots group of local riders concerned with maintaining bike access to Portland’s legendary Forest Park, the club has evolved into a strong regional advocacy organization. In December 2009, the NWTA enrolled in the newly launched chapter program of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) and became the first IMBA chapter in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, membership in the NWTA has grown from around 100 to the current roster of 750 members.

Larger membership numbers are important for advocacy groups like the NWTA as it adds weight to the club’s voice when working with city, county and state planners to get more trails built. One of the organization’s goals is to increase its roster to 1,000 members in 2014. To help support this growth, the group recently hired its first full-time employee, David Roth, as Development and Programs Director.

With a strong background in transportation planning, Roth, a life-long mountain biker, has actively participated in regional trail planning processes from both sides of the fence. In his role at NWTA, he’ll be responsible for developing fundraising and membership programs through various channels, from business sponsorships to member donations, to charitable giving. Roth said he plans to take a methodical approach to fundraising that includes reaching out to businesses and organizations beyond the cycling industry and states, “There are a lot of local businesses that value healthy, active lifestyles who would benefit from contributing to a growing cause and membership base.”

Having multiple funding channels fuel membership programs, which in turn help extend the advocacy power of the group. In recent years that campaigning and involvement has expanded to include to all types of off-road cycling within the Portland metro and surrounding areas. These interests include cross-country-style singletrack trails, urban pump tracks and skills parks, cyclocross training areas, sustainable freeride and downhill trails and urban “natural surface trails” as an alternative to paved trails for bike commuting and transportation within the city.

Riders get ready to roll out at the NWTA Trailfest ride.  Photo by NW Trail Alliance Photo by NW Trail Alliance

Riders get ready to roll out at the NWTA Trailfest ride.

Over the past few years the NWTA has developed stronger partnerships with the Portland Metro and State Parks Department, helping to score some big wins by getting regional projects approved and built. Trails at Sandy Ridge, Stub Stewart State Park, Haag Lake, Eichler Park and the Port of Cascade Locks have all benefited directly from that support. And while the lack of trail access in Portland’s iconic Forest Park remains a major disappointment for many trail riders, Roth is optimistic that these successes will eventually pave the way for greater access in previously restricted areas.

“With the current political climate, it’s just going to take some time, but with the right pieces in place, it can change quickly,” says Roth. “I saw similar challenges working for the City of Eugene; it took a couple of years, but now they’re working on a citywide trails plan and are involving mountain bikers in that planning process. I think the same can happen here in Portland….”

Joining Roth at the helm of the NWTA is recently elected Board President Kelsey Cardwell, who brings an unparalleled enthusiasm for volunteerism. Like many members of the organization, Cardwell initially came to the group after moving to Portland from Bellingham, Wash., and discovering a lack of urban trails. Since then, she began volunteering countless hours and never looked back. Although now president, she can still be found at the controls of the organization’s ST240 singletrack trail building machine.

 Photo by NW Trail Alliance Photo by NW Trail Alliance

Asked about her primary focus for 2014, current and past events such as Trailfest, Sunday Parkways, group rides, Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day, and NWTA/IMBA Bike Patrols all topped the list.

“Overall, we want to promote mountain biking in general — to get more people out there riding. It seems most of NWTA’s existing members initially become involved after moving to Portland from somewhere else and finding a lack of urban trails to ride. Or they are newcomers to the sport looking to find other people to ride with. However, many who join because of trail access concerns end up continuing as members for other reasons, such as the many community events and projects organized by NWTA,” Cardwell states.

The most popular NWTA events in 2013 were the Trailfest rides at Sandy Ridge and Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day. Trailfest brings together hundreds of riders across multiple days in an event that celebrates Sandy Ridge — a trail system that many consider to be the crown jewel of our regional trails. Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day events introduce the next generation of mountain bikers to the sport, and both adults and kids enjoy the energy and enthusiasm each other bring to the party.

“Our vision statement is ‘To create, enhance, and protect mountain bike riding opportunities; to advocate for trail access; to promote responsible mountain biking; and to build, maintain, and ride sustainable trails,’” says Cardwell. “That’s important, but I think we need to add ‘have more fun’, too.”

Learn more about the Northwest Trail Alliance by visiting nw-trail.org and join them on a work party to see firsthand what they are all about.

Üma Kleppinger is a lifelong cyclist, an erstwhile amateur racer and sesquipedalious writer, blogger and content marketing professional. She developed a flexibility and recovery program for cyclists called Bike Yoga and authored a book by the same name. When not writing she can usually be found riding one of her mountain bikes around the Pacific Northwest. For more stories about life in the saddle, visit umabomber.com

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