Turning a Trail Into an Art Gallery

Jun 16, 2016
by Euan Forrester  

Evidence of Trail Fairies is a photography project where I followed two trail builders for nine months as they built a new mountain bike trail from scratch. I made big prints of the photos and hung them up along the trail for everyone to see how the trail was built while they're using it.

Riders viewing a print of Martin building the rock retaining wall holding up the corner in front of them.

Like most people, I probably haven’t done enough trail days. I’ve been to a few, and I learned a lot, but I’m usually pretty happy when the day is over and I can nurse my back and have a cold beer. I’m also vaguely aware that when I’m out on a trail day, a lot has been done prior to my arrival: lines have been flagged, problem areas have been identified, the proper kinds of wood and dirt have been located, and tools have been provided. I’m dimly aware, mostly thanks to the Internet, that there is a small group of trail builders who are always out there. They might do a few trail days, but mostly they’re out there working alone, and they’re often responsible for the raddest stuff that we all get to ride.

Martin placing rocks at the Infamous Corner 3 so-called because of the large amount of rockwork needed to support it. Over half of the rockwork was buried to help blend it into the surrounding forest.

One day, I heard through the grapevine that my friends Martin and Penny, fresh off their revitalization of Severed Dick on the North Shore of Vancouver, BC, were thinking about starting a new project — an entirely new trail. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn more about the sometimes-secretive world of trail building, and I asked them if I could tag along and take a few photos. To my surprise, they said yes. I think they were a little surprised that I followed through.

While the exit was in the middle of nowhere and the entrance was hidden to prevent inadvertent damage to the unfinished trail the builders were careful to not be seen. They went in and out when no one was around carried their bikes and took many different routes to minimize damage to the surrounding forest.
Martin and Penny put the finishing touches on a small bridge at the beginning of Good Sir Martin.

Before beginning to build Martin spent several days hiking around the area while deciding where the trail should go. He flagged a rough line using yellow tape which was gradually refined as the work progressed.
At first, I set out hoping that I could distill down why I think Martin and Penny worked so hard on this trail. After spending nine months in the woods with them, I don’t think I’m much closer to being able to answer that question. Mostly I’m just exhausted from trying to keep up with them, despite the fact that I was out there for only a fraction of the time they put in and all I had to do was push buttons on my camera. But even if I can’t tell you exactly why they did it, maybe I can show you a little of what they did.

In these photos I want to show the experience I observed of being a trail builder: appreciating the beauty of nature, caring for it, and being dwarfed by it. I want to show the feelings of friendship, of pride, of adventure, of teamwork, of mentorship, of exhaustion, and of loneliness that I saw. I want to show that a trail (or, this trail at least) is not some grand plan that unfolds, but rather a rough sketch that’s filled in, tested, and evolved as it’s built. And I want to show some of the special moments that happened along the way that not everyone gets to see.
Alex and Maddy were amongst the first to discover the trail while walking their dog. This note became a special keepsake for Martin and Penny.

When working in the dark on weeknights Martin would set his phone alarm for 9 00 PM to remind him to start thinking about going home for dinner.

I was inspired by Zoe Strauss and her project I-95 in which she photographed neighbourhoods in Philadelphia and displayed the resulting prints under a highway overpass for everyone to see.

After seeing her project I wanted to take this idea and use it in a slightly different way: since a lot of trail-building photography focuses on before and after, I thought it might be interesting to focus on “during” while at the same time the viewer is experiencing “after”.

October 13 2014 The creek crossing was the only part of the trail that didn t change location over the course of the build.
May 18 2015 Martin and Penny used as few bridges as possible because they will eventually degrade and have to be replaced. Nevertheless bridge-building was everyone s favourite day.

The builders hold up before and during photos of the bridge build in front of the finished product.

So, I chose 20 photos and made big prints of them that we hung along the trails. I found a place that printed them with UV-resistant ink on a hard plastic material and then laminated them. It took some back-and-forth to make prints that are visible in the dim light of the forest. They’ll be there for about three months although I’m told they would survive about six. I also made some posters to place at trail intersections which have text that explains what the project is about, and maps to show where it begins and ends. I hired a graphic designer to make it all look much better than I could on my own.

We didn’t want to nail anything to live trees, so we got some rope and Martin made some thin cedar slats. We tied the slats to the trees and tied the prints to the slats. There were a few places where there wasn’t a suitable tree, and so Martin and Penny made some special easels for those prints.

For the installation we didn t want to nail anything to live trees so Martin and Penny devised a solution where a slat was tied to the tree and the print was tied to the slat.
For the installation there were locations where there wasn t a suitable tree so Martin and Penny created easels to hold up the prints.
We placed several informational posters along the trail to describe the project and help guide people to see the entire installation.

Now that it’s out there, one thing I hope is that this project is able to shed some positive light on mountain biking. While 99.99999% of interactions between hikers and bikers range from fine to downright friendly, there’s been a handful around here that haven’t and unfortunately it’s been those which have been amplified by the media. So I hope that this project gives people something positive to talk about, and puts a friendly face on mountain biking for those outside our community.

These climbing trails are popular with runners because the slight grade is easy on their knees and when they encounter a rider it s always at a low speed.
A hiker stops to read one of the informational posters we put along the installation. This is most common location for hikers and runners to first encounter the project and it s unfortunately at the end. So we included maps to help guide people to the beginning of the project so they can experience the entire thing.

And finally, I want to say that my goal isn’t to single out Martin and Penny. They’ve done great work, to be sure, but no more or less than hundreds of other dedicated trail builders around the world. But by showing the work they put in to create these trails, I hope I can encourage people to pay attention to the little touches their local builders have put into their local trails. Whether it’s well-placed drainage to keep the trail dry, rockwork to smooth the trail over undulations in the terrain, a corner that’s a little wider than normal to help you get around a tree, beefy construction of a bridge built to last, or greenery planted along the side to make it all beautiful, these touches might go unnoticed at times but they’re done lovingly by a small group of people who like building trails as much as we all like riding them.

Martin and Penny nail together the structure of a large bridge near the end of Good Sir Martin.

A rider passes one of the prints in the installation.
Evidence of Trail Fairies will be up along Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin on Mount Seymour in Vancouver, BC, Canada until September 2016.

You can also take a look at the entire project online.

MENTIONS: @euan-forrester / @englishman / @trailforks / @mtbmudhoney

Author Info:
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Member since Jan 1, 2000
2 articles
Must Read This Week

  • 273 6
 That's the raddest thing I've seen in a long while. Standing ovation please.
  • 17 1
 I rode both the other day and they are spectacular what was even more awesome was running into Penny and Martin as they are working on the very last bits.
  • 8 2
 @Mirks: Am I correct that these trails were built to be ridden uphill? Then that's even more amazing dedication.
  • 21 1
 @Czauder1: They are both dedicated climbing trails which increases options tenfold on Seymour - no longer is shuttling necessary and you get an awesome perspective of the inner working of the forest, plus you work for your descents which is killer, but so worth it.
  • 49 7
 Quite honestly it inspired me to create an artwork for some of trailheads in my area with a big writing under them:

"Hola Compadres Stravaderos! If you cut turns finding seconds on this trail we will find you, and cut your dick off.

Ride On! Local Trail Association"
  • 4 0
 Here here, this is simply fantastic.
  • 8 17
flag DaleE (Jun 16, 2016 at 11:44) (Below Threshold)
 @Mirks: I for one don't ride up hill, I push or carry, so I always choose the shortest route up. I only ride level, down, or easy grade. Health reasons....
  • 9 0
 @DaleE: Oooh, so sorry to hear about, hope you get well soon
  • 2 6
flag vernonjeff (Jun 16, 2016 at 14:55) (Below Threshold)
 @DaleE: @DaleE: TIL: pinkbike hates disabled people...

Hope its a temperate thing and glad your getting out and doing something active.
  • 13 11
 @vernonjeff: i am an architect, I reserve the right to hate disabled people to myself. God only knows why all the buildings must take them into account and hundreds of building regulations are imposed on healthy society. The result is making gigantic bathrooms and hallways. If we designed buildings with dwarves in mind, my job would be muuuuch easier. Discriminating basterds! Houses for little people! Buuyaaaaa
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: fair point.
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Ok. Now I really know you have a sense of humor. I can say that since I used to do field mesurments and C.A.D. for architectural firms. The A.D.A. is nesicary but some of the reg.s make your job a living hell and do nothing to improve access for wheelchairs. Unlike some of these overly P.C. punks that you very effectively trolled, I Up voted you.
  • 2 2
 @BlazeNawaY: yes it was a joke but joking aside the handicap accessibility system in housing is sick. No more than 50% of built apartments need to be accessible and in this way we could make more effective and smaller apartments. Bathrooms and bedrooms get insanely huge when accessibility gets considered. Double bed rooms get bigger than living rooms and bathrooms get bigger than single bed rooms.
  • 3 1
 Eaun rode by them today, some stellar pics and brilliant concept bud!! The night shot hammering nails into the ladder with headlamps and the going into the forest at dusk were awesome!! Penny and Martin, thanks for all the hard work.
  • 1 1
 @WAKIdesigns seriously amazing.
  • 2 1
 @WAKIdesigns: Healthy society? WTF does that mean? Thankfully you don't have the right to not accommodate accessibility requirements into your designs. The regulations are there to prevent naïve and ignorant architects and builders from doing whatever the hell they want. People's lives can change instantly through accidents, and it is a life altering instantaneous change for the individual and all of the people around them. Hopefully you (or someone that you know) will never have to experience the need for accessible features in a building, otherwise, you'd be proud of what you have been forced to consider into your designs. In the meantime, go fu@k yourself and do as you're told...you b!tch

BTW we now have a fully accessible trail on the Shore called Bobsled, and it has opened the world to ex DH racers and other injured riders, along with other 'non-healthy society'. We have been proposing other full access trails for sometime now that are waiting for approval.

Accessibility options in daily living, including recreational activities, is amazing. It's nice to know that these options exist, especially when we engage in this high risk sport that we love called mountain biking.
  • 2 0
 @tomjedimaster: Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. Comparing one per 10.000 of trails being accessible to 1 per 10.000 buildings not being accessible ir ridiciculous. The societal, economical and environmental cost of making every non-public structure (like housing or hotels) accessible cannot be compared to some stupid activity like hiking or MTB. And then you are perpetuating this ridiculous myth of architects doing whatever they want. Politically charged bollocks flying on the wings of ignorance, carried by the wind of universal morals. Nothing to do with reality of disabled standing for tiny procent of population. I was speaking about housing, not about public buildings or public areas, hospitals, means of transport or whatever, where accessibility regulations go along with convenience for every single human being. Not even all housing, many propose making 50% of housing for people with reduced mobility. Regulations that demand making each entrance to the building. It is insane and reality adjusts it on the fly. We make one entrance accessible with accessible way to the lift, and draw stair lifts/ hydraulic platforms in other places - investor then decides after building is accepted to remove the installation. But no, social justice warriors will make it the meaning of their life to make that disabled personbe able to get through the main entrance to get sense of dignity. To feel like other people. Instead he has to go for a stroll of shame and enter the building from the garden (where he probably left his car) What a disgrace!

You have no clue what you are talking about and made a light hearted "insiders" joke into serious case of touchy moral bollocks. Would make a great after News reportage: Why Architects hate disabled people". Congratulations!
  • 44 3
 I could just see myself like "Ooo cool picture!" and then SMASH! Right into a tree.
  • 25 0
 Building trails is absolutely an art. I've always felt it's a reflection of the flow in my life with a twisted sense of creativity, a positive way to channel stress in my life, what the terrain will allow as the final master piece, lastly, I build trails according to my riding discipline and skill level. When I ride a trail I did not create, I have a deep appreciation and respect for the love and labor that goes into building trails I get to enjoy while riding the flow of the builders lives.
  • 16 0
 Wow. Nice work. Good choice of trail too. The finest example of well built climbing trail on the Shore
  • 5 0
 Now if only we could get a forever adnois connector :p
  • 2 0
 @velocitajano: i was Asian Adonis on the weekend and I found a little connector above the exit that went back to Penny Lane. Was fantastic to do another loop.
  • 1 0
 @velocitajano: true that....a connector from end Adonis to lower forever be mint....there is a trail that comes in from riders left on lower forever...at those double rock slabs...but no idea where it's coming from...it's not in th app....but it was flagged for an enduro race as a connector once ...anybody knows where it comes from ?
  • 5 0
 @Satn69: @Sharonb and I (with a bunch of other vollies) put in "Adonis Buster" just so people could loop back to C-Buster and Penny Lane. The alternative otherwise was to descend to the Baden-Powell which is mucky and gets destroyed in the wet. It makes for a little XC loop and was built just to give dryer options.

Apologies for the tight turn entry but we're going to put in a better entry in fall.
  • 2 0
 @chantalfelten: Some people put a trail named Gnomer into this area in approx 2009-10. What you describe is the original Gnomer exit and its still occasionally ridden (the original Gnomer entry is now decommissioned). A couple of years later Forever After was built over Gnomer. Now people just call it and ride it as Forever After.

That Gnomer exit continues on to Bridle Path
  • 1 0
 @leelau: thanks lee...that solves that mystery Wink
  • 2 1
 @leelau: fan of the connector as well....first lap up ...down AA..connect back over up again on gsm...down JD ...makes for a great lap.....if we could connect out of Asian to forever after, I'd prolly reverse those and start at Hyannis and finish on forever and highchool....that be such an awesome lap
  • 2 0
 @velocitajano: that would be nice, but Metro Vancouver won't allow it. When we were building AA there was work being done on the Gnomer connector so we didn't see a need for that, then that got shut down and that connector is pretty actively monitored and kept closed.

Maybe sometime in the future someone can convince Metro to make it happen.
  • 8 0
 Wow. It's great to see some original work. Cool project.

As an ex-professional trail builder for SORCA and Evergreen MTB Alliance I can assure you that there is a TON of work that full time builders put in before trail days. Sometimes days of planning to prepare for the volunteers: finding suitable jobs for vollies to do, moving tools, getting comfort stuff ready (tents, food, beer, etc.).

There are a ton of builders out there that don't get recognition from the big agencies (IMBA, Evergreen MTB, SORCA, WORCA, NSMB, etc.) If you pass a builder while they are working on a trail make sure to stop and say thanks, maybe even volunteer to haul some buckets of dirt. A simple thank you is what we work for. I have been bummed out at times when people just blow by when I am doing maintenance on something without acknowledging my presence. A simple thank you is rad! And like in this write up, beer is even better!
  • 5 0
 Great concept and follow through. Majority of trail users have no idea of the work that may have gone into some sections that you ride over/through in seconds. The planning, reworking, drainage, rock work side-hills (even the hunt for good rock or wood to support the trail). We do it because we love it, and the recognition of work required is secondary, but the people that saw your art installation will have a better appretiation for all the hard work, time and love put into your favourite trails. Bravo.
  • 1 0
 Coming from you that's high praise!
  • 1 0
 @leelau: thanks lee. I know you get it .
  • 6 0
 Very cool. As someone that does his fair share of trail work; I can appreciate everything about their trail project. Long live the Trail Fairies!!
  • 2 0
 Thanks for all the Woodlot love Dean
  • 5 1
 Great job! Cool project to make people aware that trails are not created on their own, but there are builders behind all this hard work.

Keep on the good work!

(sry for grammar Smile )
  • 7 2
 I really respect that fact that you hung the pictures with ropes around that tress instead of using nails, and nice job of capturing what it is like to build this trail.
  • 5 0
 Awesome! Every time I ride these trails around the North Shore I feel like I'm riding a piece of mountain bike art! These climbs are particularly fun to ride, great work!
  • 3 0
 Such a good article. Amazing project. I wish this type of thing could be done all over the world, but unfortunately many trail builders have to work underground, or in shades of grade, with land owners failing to understand the potential of well built single track.
  • 4 1
 Been wanting to do this in our area during a build to educate and excite folks, but we're severely limited to what we can put out there for the public on approved trails. Great to see this kind of project go through.
  • 2 0
 One of the best if not best ever climbing trail I have had the joy to ride..and I usually don't use the words joy and climb in the same sentence. This art meets trail project is amazing !!!! Just ride penny/gsm last week...might just have to go back before picking folks up st the airport Wink
  • 2 0
 Ha! My original (experimental/learning to build) trails, 1km in length, were resurrected for this comtemporary art exhibition in 2014. Visitors were able to walk the trail and experience each work individually from the others, in a forest setting. My work is "Imprint"...

  • 6 0
 Awesome project!
  • 5 4
 Couple of super minor clarifications

First- "Now that it’s out there, one thing I hope is that this project is able to shed some positive light on mountain biking. While 99.99999% of interactions between hikers and bikers range from fine to downright friendly, there’s been a handful around here that haven’t and unfortunately it’s been those which have been amplified by the media. So I hope that this project gives people something positive to talk about, and puts a friendly face on mountain biking for those outside our community."

First, not every biker respects Penny and Martin's (and other volunteers) work. Sometimes its bikers themselves who don't respect it. Hopefully this project helps educate bikers too

Second - The middle section of trail linking Penny Lane and Good Sir Martin (its in the pics in the display map) is Lower C-Buster. @Sharonb myself and many others helped a ton on resurrecting that old section of trail and raising it above the wet ground so its somewhat rideable now. Many thanks to Paul S, TrevorH, SvenL, Dana, Sharayah, Isabel, Jake, Hoots, AndrewM and many others who helped us with the unglamorous work of filling in mudholes and raising trailbed
  • 2 2
 THat map is correct and I can't edit the comment above. Penny Lane is continuous to Good Sir Martin. I mixed up Pussy Foot which is another Penny/Martin beauty of a connector trail with Penny Lane. Sorry! I'll back away from the mike now.
  • 3 0
 @leelau: thanks Lee Sharon Penny and Martin for all your hard work. I owe the both of you making my rides much more enjoyable and my life a bit less stressful after a caotic day at work. Many thx.
  • 2 0
 Euan, great job documenting Martin and Penny's efforts and what an original concept for exhibiting. Well done! Haven't ridden the exhibit yet but I am looking forward to it. GT
  • 1 0
 That is probably the Best projekt shown on Pinkbike ever! Building trails needs SO much more work than most People imagine, and as i can See from the comments its not only at my place that job is SO underapreciated. Again Great work!
  • 4 0
 Awesome. Alex is a cool guy also
  • 3 0
 Great project and great trail to showcase the dedication and hard work it takes to create a reality out of an idea.
  • 2 0
 Amazing trail, amazing Trail Fairies!! Thank you to the NSMBA and all the trail builders in North Van - this is why I love living here!
  • 2 0
 I can't wait to ride both of these trails to check out their work this weekend. Thank you so much Penny and Martin, your trails are incredible and so much fun to ride.
  • 3 0
 Super cool project, Euan! Didn't know you had such an epic plan those times I've seen you shooting with them!
  • 2 0
 Thanks! Yeah, I wanted it to be a surprise Smile . I'm so happy that everyone seems stoked on it!
  • 2 0
 I've met Penny and Martin. They let me sample thiere new dirt on the severed entrance. The climbing trail they built. Awesome! Thanks guys .....and girls.
  • 2 0
 Great work - love to see the exposure of just how incredibly hard Penny and Martin work on this stuff.
  • 3 0
 This is such a fantastic way to outreach between hikers and bikers
  • 3 0
 Love the bleeding shins from trail work. Wreaks of effort!
  • 3 0
 great work, so cool to see the process while it's taking place
  • 2 0
 No doubt it is cool to see that Process 134.
  • 3 0
 Really enjoying Severed guys, Mucho gracias!
  • 3 0
 Such an original concept and brilliantly executed! Thanks for doing this!!
  • 1 0
 How does trail approval and signage work in BC? Was this approved in advance? What keeps it from getting shut down? Awesome work and great documenting of it!
  • 2 0
 Much respect and eternal gratitude to all the builders out there!!
  • 3 1
 This is some quality content! More please!
  • 2 0
  • 2 0
 Awesome! Great idea and project.
  • 2 0
 So inspiring. Thank you !
  • 2 0
 I love trailbuilding so much!
  • 2 0
 I'm writing a card to myself - Wished I'm there! Great job folks!
  • 2 0
 Bravo! Fantastic project and amazing people!
  • 4 2
  • 3 1
 North Shore for the win!
  • 2 0
 so cool! i love this
  • 2 0
 Amazing. Thanks for this
  • 1 0
 Awesome story. @krismag117
  • 1 0
 Great idea!
  • 1 0
 very cool....

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