When Jim Ireland was a new mountain biker, he would zip through the trails in his local Delaware and Maryland parks. From time to time, he’d wonder how those trails came to be in existence. He quickly became interested in volunteering to help maintain the trails on which he rode and hiked.
Jim loved mountain biking, so he wanted to get involved for two main reasons. If he could help out with trail maintenance, perhaps he could ensure mountain biker’s continued access to those trails. He also knew full well, that when a tree falls across a trail during a storm, it’s not the “trail fairy” that removes it. It’s a group of unpaid regular folks who care about their local parks. He wanted a way to give back to the community.
Fast forward 7 years… Jim is now the President of the Delaware Trail Spinners, a local non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting the sport of mountain biking. They are made up of mountain bikers of all skill levels and they believe that the way to preserve access to the trails is through education and advocacy. They volunteer their time by doing trail maintenance on a regular basis. They also put on numerous events annually, for example, the Fair Hill Classic mountain bike race, which was just conducted on July 15th. The race drew 620 racers and it is the biggest revenue-generating event for DTS. The profits are put back into the trail system.
The Delaware Trail Spinners also hold annual events like the Jamboree and the Poker Run. These mountain biking festivals have bands, food, games, and large organized rides on well-marked trails. This year’s Poker Run was held in June, and the money raised was donated to Todd Forrest, a former DTS president who contracted Multiple Myeloma in 2011. This spirit of charity and volunteerism is strong in the mountain biking community. Hundreds of riders turn out for these family-oriented gatherings and many companies contribute funds to these DTS events.
I met and interviewed Jim Ireland recently. I caught up with him at the DTS monthly meeting. George and I sat in on the meeting, which is open to the public. It was held in the back room of McGlynn’s Restaurant in the Polly Drummond Shopping Center in Newark, DE. About 30 people attended.
The next four posts will be a series on the Delaware Trail Spinners. I think they set an excellent example for the mountain biking community. This group of ordinary folks was not too busy to step forward and say, “I want do my part. Let me help out.”
Follow along with me and you’ll learn about the history of the club. It’s good for young trail advocacy groups to see that an organization as big as DTS had its own humble beginnings.
The next post will be a look behind the scenes at what happens in their meetings. I think you’ll be impressed at how organized they are and all the things they have on their schedule.
The third post will be an interview with Jim Ireland, the President of DTS. It’s my favorite part of the series because, not only was it the very first interview I’ve ever conducted, but I also had a lot of fun talking to Jim about his passion for trail advocacy.
The last post will be a day in the life of a DTS volunteer. I came out the day before the Fair Hill Classic Race to help set things up. You’ll get a look at all the work that goes into putting on a such a huge successful mountain bike race.
So let’s get right into it.
The Delaware Trail Spinners started in 1993. The club was formed by Bill Bowen and Jim McGroerty for the purpose of having fun group rides and holding a race called the C & D Classic. Jim and Bill met the guys from the Delaware Valley Mountain Bike Association at this race. This group was working to improve mountain bikers' image by doing volunteer work on the trails. DTS teamed up with DVMBA members, Brent, Steve, and Ken and began working on getting the new improved Delaware Trail Spinners organized.
They started writing the group’s constitution, began the process to get the group recognized as a non-profit, incorporated entity, and they went on with their trail work. Times were tough because the group had no money. Members used their own personal funds to hold their races.
In 1995, the Fair Hill Natural Resource Area opened up to more than just equestrians. Bill Bowen started a relationship with the new manager, Ed Walls and helped pave the way toward getting mountain biker’s access to the park. They also began adding mountain bike-friendly trails. Today, the Fair Hill now has over 100 miles of horse, bike, and hiking trails.
As the years have gone by, the Delaware Trail Spinners have gotten more organized. They’ve joined up with IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association). They’ve been recognized with awards for their stewardship and volunteer work.
DTS’s credo is that mountain biking is a privilege, not a right. In order to maintain access to the trails that mountain bikers ride, DTS promotes rider’s interests to the state and local government. They build relationships with land managers in their local parks and always get permission to do the work that they do. They donate volunteer hours as a way to show officials just how serious mountain bikers are about their sport. When trails are built, they are constructed in a way that makes them sustainable against weather, time, and trail user traffic.
Trail maintenance, races, and festival events are not the only things that DTS is involved with. They hold clinics to teach children and beginners how to mountain bike. They apply for grants and solicit funds for trail building from companies that are interested in land stewardship. They encourage their members to get involved in the political process to help shape the future of how public land is used. This can be done by letter writing campaigns, phone calls to the local official’s offices, making appearances at local planning meetings, and speaking up at land use meetings.
Since Jim Ireland became president in 2007, he has been a firm believer that the political process is so very important, perhaps even more important than simply putting in volunteer hours and hoping that it keeps mountain bikers in the land manager’s good graces. Jim would much rather be outside building a trail, but he has accepted that having an active voice in local politics is crucial to the continued access of mountain bikers.
Mountain bikers have enemies. There are many people who don’t want us on the trails. They speak up and make their voices heard. Jim says that we need to do the same. We need to let our local government know that we want to ride our bikes on the trails. We need to prove that we are responsible trail users. We can do this by picking up the phone and calling our local lawmakers. We can donate money and time to mountain biking causes. We can put our sweat equity into the trails by doing approved trail maintenance.
Join me next time to hear about how the Delaware Trail Spinners work toward their goals. We’ll take a behind the scenes look at one of their meetings. You’ll be amazed at all the things they have going on at one time.