Fort William has long been known for mountain biking, largely due to the UCI World Cup, and local riders sliding their way through muddy turns. The trails in the area are either the well-known formal trails at Nevis Range, or the characteristically steep and slippery local’s trails in Leanachan and Glen Loy forests.
Trail building has always been done by a small number of local riders, but with the numbers of riders growing there was a real need to get more organised to help increase the sustainability of Lochabers trail network.
A group of us love mountain biking and building trails, but in Lochaber, it has always been done in a very informal way.
It's often difficult to find the time to dedicate to trail building, especially when we all work, have families and other community commitments. We decided to start the group to bring more people together and all get involved, improve the trails and encourage the local riders who wouldn’t feel comfortable or confident to do any trail maintenance without the support of a formal group.
There was a lot of support and enthusiasm from local riders but also a bit of scepticism about our motivations, capabilities and whether formalising things would end up being a threat to the trails or that we would ‘sanitise the trails’, which is far from the truth.
So far our events have had great attendance, volunteers have been coming along and loved being involved and making a difference.
Getting organised was a long process, and we made some mistakes and took longer than we would have liked but finding the right people for the jobs that need doing is difficult.
Inevitably few people enjoy the more mundane planning tasks, but they are essential in keeping the trail association running – we do need to bring in more keen folk to share the load, so if you're interested, get in touch!
From the start we decided we wanted to build good relationships with the landowners whose trails we ride and work on.
This was a step into the unknown for us as a group of enthusiastic mountain bikers, but Forestry and land Scotland (FLS) have been really supportive. They were keen to learn about what we wanted to do, walk the trails with us and make sure they were comfortable with setting up a Memorandum of Understanding between us.
Once we got that agreement in place, dealing with them has been really simple – we make sure we send them a plan for each dig with a clear description of highlighting our aims. Improving safety is always something we are keen to emphasise, and along with that we will plan in improvements to the ride of the trails and their sustainability.
FLS really appreciate that we try to be well planned and that communication is simple and straightforward. This has really built a relationship that is based on trust and hope we can develop this in the future to be even stronger.
In terms of the work we have managed to do, we won’t claim to have transformed the quality of the trails, but it's small steps and we are learning how to work with enthusiastic volunteers.
We have sorted a few really wet boggy sections of trails to put in a more sustainable surface. In Lochaber that is really challenging due to the poor soil and high rainfall.
Our volunteers seem to love being out as part of a community and when we look at the work we do in a 3 hour dig, it’s pretty impressive – way more than we could achieve as individuals going out on our days off for weeks! Seeing the people on our digs working hard but having a good social, is what it's all about really!
When we started getting a few non-mountain bikers asking to get involved or being really enthusiastic about what we were doing, we realised we are onto something good – being something that is part of the wider Lochaber community, not just a group of mountain bikers.
Firstly, we obviously want our trails to be really good to ride, and more sustainable throughout the year.
We know we need to bring more people in to help with the running of the LTA, but also just to get more people out enjoying working together.
Covering our costs will also be an ongoing challenge. It's not much but we need to cover insurance, tools and PPE. So, fundraising to cover these costs but also hopefully generating a bit extra so we can start to go beyond really basic jobs would be great.
Finally, partnerships and building good relationships. The Scottish Enduro Series have asked us to help with the event here in Lochaber, so if they can help cover our basic running costs and we can help them host a great event then it’s a win-win for all of us.
Forestry and land Scotland have also said they are happy to look at ways we can work together so if there are any opportunities to achieve more with help from them, this could really help us improve the sustainability of the trails.
We will also be encouraging folks to book their holiday to Lochaber through the DMBinS link to Expedia on the Lochaber Ride Guide. Then 5% of the holiday costs will come straight to us!