Words by Michele Charboneau
Photos by Mike ThomasTrail gnomes—er, dedicated volunteers—hard at work building the new Jabberwocky trail in the Ashland watershed.
The sun is shining. The dirt is heroic. You’re shredding hard after a period of storms kept you off the bike for way too long. You rip by a fallen tree that has been neatly cleared off the trail; you carve a sublime berm that’s been freshly tamped to perfection, not a braking bump in sight. You send up a cheer of gratitude to the “trail gnomes” and whoop your way down the trail, looking forward to swapping ride stories with your buddies over a beer at the local brewery.
Wait, trail gnomes? Hate to break it to you, but… these mythical creatures do not exist. There’s no Shreddy, Rippy, Steezy, Carvy, Schralpy, Hucky or even Toodly out there armed with McLeods and Rogue hoes building the trails you love and maintaining them after stormy weather and long seasons of overuse. There are, however, passionate fellow riders putting in time and effort to support our sport—folks who realize they need to give a little in order to enjoy a lot.
And it is, in fact, relatively easy – and even a great deal of fun – to give a little, thanks to the leadership efforts of a number of trail stewardship organizations and local businesses dedicated to the trails. Community trail work events welcome volunteers of all ages and abilities, and it’s a rewarding way to make new friends while getting a solid dose of physical activities and the great outdoors. A wide array of tasks are available, from harder efforts such as tree removal and cutting in new trail, to easier options such as raking, tamping and fixing drains. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as riding a berm you helped dial in, or taking a friend down a section of trail that you helped bench!
William “Wild Bill” Roussel, owner of Ashland Mountain Adventures
, has been organizing trail work efforts for nearly ten years in the Ashland watershed. He sums up his commitment to trail work succinctly: “We use the mountain. We owe it to the mountain to give back.” He adds with a laugh, “And hell, let’s make a party of it.”
Roussel’s passion for giving back to the trails he so enjoys riding began many years ago when he was invited to help with trail work after riding with friends in Downieville fifteen years ago. He recalls feeling drawn to give back to the trails he thoroughly enjoyed and threw in with the Yuba Expeditions efforts. Then and there, a lifelong dedication to trail work was born, and upon his move to Ashland in 2008, trail advocacy became an integral part of his life and a prime objective of his business. Roussel is lauded as an active leader in the Ashland area, looking out for the local mountain biking community’s best interests. His bike shop/shuttle service—which he runs with his wife and business partner Sue O’Daly—is a hub for trail stewardship in the Ashland area, and hosts several trail work events each year drawing up to thirty enthusiastic volunteers regardless of weather conditions.
AMA’s most recent event, held on Saturday, February 18, drew 35 volunteers who fueled up on Ruby's breakfast burritos and coffee before being shuttled by AMA to assignments throughout the Ashland watershed trail system. The trail work event was presented in partnership between AMA and the California Enduro Series
(CES) and sponsored by Santa Cruz Bicycles
. Crews, which included ten Santa Cruz Bicycles employees up from Santa Cruz, California, braved chilly, wet conditions to work on the brand new Jabberwocky trail, perform maintenance on Lizard and Catwalk, and remove massive downed trees on Catwalk and Missing Links. After a full day of trail work and camaraderie, volunteers converged back at AMA for a barbecue spread courtesy of Santa Cruz Bicycles, and beer, cider, and cake provided by AMA. The following day, several of the volunteers enjoyed the added reward of riding the trails they worked on, despite a dusting of snow that came down overnight.
Sound like a rewarding time with like-minded people for a good cause? You, too, can be your own trail gnome! Learn how you can help with trail work efforts in your community by contacting your local bike shop or trail stewardship organization.AMA co-owner Sue O’Daly chats up local trail builders Todd Iverson and Della Woods over breakfast burritos before setting out to work.AMA’s renowned owner “Wild Bill” Roussel (left) and Santa Cruz Bicycles Sports Marketing Manager Allan Cooke discuss the day’s plan of attack.The event brought together a number of local trail volunteers as well as out-of-towners including a 10-man crew from Santa Cruz Bicycles.Planning out the work crews over breakfast.A main focus of the day was continued work on the new Jabberwocky trail. This 2.5-mile legal flow trail replaces an unsustainable, unauthorized trail that was in jeopardy of being shut down by city officials. The new Jabberwocky design allows for proper drainage and erosion control, an important consideration in this area of the Ashland watershed. Zane Houshour (left) has been working side by side with Roussel daily to bring the new Jabberwocky to life. A regular user of the trails, Houshour is committed to doing what he can to improve on and maintain the systems he so enjoys.A stoked crew on Jabberwocky included California Enduro Series director Steve Gemelos (third back), Santa Cruz Bicycles employees, and members of local mountain biking organization Rogue Valley Mountain Bike Association (RVMB).Ashland’s decomposed granite is a dream to ride … and dig.Excavator Jake Contreras roughs out Roussel’s design.Gemelos (left) and Cooke making their mark on the new Jabberwocky.The obligatory adorbs trail dog shot. Meet Avid, an Ashland local.All five of these fine volunteers performing maintenance on Lizard will be racing events on California Enduro Series schedule this season. From front to back: Sean Storment, Matt Weis, Amy Oppen, Josh Kahn, and Della Woods.Ashland corners. Love.70-year old Dennis Martinson discovered the joy of mountain biking at 57 and eagerly embraced trail work as well. Martinson says, “Sue and Bill are such great ambassadors to this sport, riding all over the place, and organizing crews to care for the trails. They feed us and give us prizes. We should be giving them prizes!”Views like these.Aaron Barrowhitz takes on a massive Ponderosa that fell across three sections of Catwalk.Roussel directing tree removal efforts on Catwalk.Ashland native Sam Markling now makes Santa Cruz his home—he both works for and rides for Santa Cruz Bicycles—but frequently returns to the trails he grew up on. Andrea Napoli takes on a big day in the forest.An Ashland icon. One of three shuttle vans in the AMA fleet.Cooke serves up a spectacular BBQ feast to the hard working, hungry crew upon their arrival back at the AMA shop.Post workday festivities.Local rider and trail work regular Don Morehouse kills it on the trails.Cooke takes a well-earned break to enjoy supper and laughs with his Santa Cruz Bicycles crew. SCB is no stranger to the trail work scene, sponsoring events regularly. He says, “We’re stoked to be up here with some of the Santa Cruz Factory Racing guys to help work on trails we know and love. It’s been a big winter so we’re getting some trees out. And we’re finishing new trails which are always exciting.” He reflects, “It’s like we’re the ones getting something to be here. It’s pretty cool.”Ashland resident – and Santa Cruz Bicycles pro rider—Nathan Riddle hangs out with his son. Although able to get in quick lunch rides, Riddle’s full-time job prevents him from pitching in on the weekday trail building efforts of his friends Roussel and Houser. He was glad for the weekend opportunity to help out on the Jabberwocky crew.AMA owners O’Daly and Roussel are a force of nature. Their dedication to Ashland mountain biking is renowned—and celebrated—throughout the greater mountain biking community. O’Daly says, “Mountain biking is our life and love.”An overnight dusting of snow didn’t stop Roussel, Gemelos, and the Santa Cruz Bicycles crew from a riding reward the day after the work event.Those trees. That light. The feeling of being one with the trail.Gemelos (AKA trail gnome Steevy) getting after it on Old Jabb. CES, which promotes enduro events throughout California and just over the Nevada and Oregon borders, is dedicated to helping maintain the trails its independently-produced races run on. The series director says, “In many riding areas, the trails we ride are built and maintained by local riders. As an organization that promotes mountain bike races on these trails built by volunteers, CES feels strongly about contributing to their efforts. Beyond the support we offer event organizers to put on a successful race, we also want to give back by picking up a shovel and directly help to maintain the trails.”Cooke leads the train down BTI.Santa Cruz Factory Racing’s Kyle “Speedbump” Harder carving one of BTI’s many sweet corners. Harder made the trip up from Santa Cruz where is active in local trail work. Harder says, “I just want to give back to the trails I ride. I love trail work, and Santa Cruz made it easy to come up here to help trails out of my area."Markling chases Kyle Bowman down BTI.Markling foot out flat out on BTI.An amped SCB crew revels at the end of a memorable weekend.