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Basaburua MTB: best trail crew award IMBA Europe

Oct 9, 2023 at 14:28
by Yaroslav Alpizar  
bigquotesHaving volunteers who care about the state of the trails is essential to create a strong and passionate mountain bike community.Manu

Trail Associations and trail crews are popping out like mushrooms in Spain, mainly in the Northern areas, all across the Pyrenees. Small trail crews that have been doing their work in the shadows, without official recognition are finally getting the attention they deserve and even more important, support and permits from local authorities and the cycling industry. Basaburua MTB is one of those trails crews that started out of passion of one single trail builder, Manu, who has managed in 3 years to put the region in the spotlight as a known mountain bike destination.

Basaburua mountain biking trails


Yari: What is Basaburua MTB, how was it created?
Manu: Hi Yari, well, Basaburua MTB as such was created in 2021, with the aim of giving visibility to the trails and routes that we have been preparing several members for a few years. I came from the Basque pelota, and I started in the world of cycling in 2018 with a small event that they did in the valley. I started to go out in other areas (Lekunberri, Eremua) and I saw that there were very cool trails, and I was encouraged to clean and mark something in my area. I opened a couple of trails in my area and I got interested.

Our valley is mountainous, where the main activity is cattle ranching. Talking with a couple of friends who practice MTB, it occurred to us to go to the town hall of Basaburua and ask for authorization to do something in a close by mountain that was non used and was vegetation was completely overgrown. We were lucky they liked the idea and accepted, they even assigned a couple of people to work with us, with tools and basic expenses paid such as fuel. We finished a first "official" trail right at the end of COVID and this is what started our project.

Then, with the reopening after the COVID we had just created a small route putting together everything we had done voluntarily plus what already existed, and we began to let others know about that route through word of mouth. Slowly began to be more and more known and we realized that this attracted people to the area. I thought about doing a survey amongst the people who visited the site to see what were the needs of the users. After around 70 responses we realized that this could work if we invested more time and had more trails.

From there, we have continued working together with the city council in the process of creating new trails, maintaining all the best we could, and working on its visibility till today. Between the end of 2022 and this 2023 I think we have taken a big step, reaching more people and attracting many volunteers.



Yari: Who is behind MTB Basaburua, do you have an organizational structure or just a couple of friends who get together to clean trails?
I would spend 8-10 hours working in the hill, completely on my own without any kind of support, accompanied by my dog.Manubigquotes
Manu: Luckily, behind MTB Basaburua there are many people who contribute, and there are more and more who want to help in the project. I am the most involved, since it is an initiative that came from me. I am an agricultural engineer and my parents have a cider factory in the valley, where I have been working for years. In 2020 with COVID, we had the cider mill closed, which allowed me to have more free time to work on the trails. I would spend 8-10 hours working in the hill, completely on my own without any kind of support, accompanied by my dog. Then I realized that this was my passion and that I was happier working on the trails than anywhere else. I decided to leave the cider house, and to devote myself to the project, creating my company to design, construct and maintenan trails, and combining it with other temporary jobs.

Since then, I have been fortunate to have the help of many people, people who have become friends and who have offered me their help in different aspects, forming an exceptional group. Friends who have offered to clean and build trails, friends who have offered to take photos and create video content, even friends who have offered to create the website. I couldn't be more grateful for all the help I have received, as without all of them the project would not be were it is right now.

Today, we have three Whatsapp groups: one for cycling and trail work, one for Media and one for the website. The one for the trails, we usually use it for information (if there is a fallen tree, overgrown vegetation, a berm that needs fixing, etc.) and to get together to work on the trails or on the events we do or to cycle. At the beginning I was the one who pushed the most to get others to go clean trails, but lately the helpers (especially Mikel and Jabi) are taking care of the trails near their homes by themselves. In Media, we decided the type of video we want to create (trail building, cycling, some event, etc.) together with our media team which is composed by Yiyo, Pablo Etxaniz and David. And in the website, together with Patxi, we see what needs to be updated or what kind of information is missing.



Yari: How do you finance the purchase of resources, tools, pay for fuel, snacks for volunteers and so on? Do you have any solution for external people to collaborate with the project?
Manu: So far we haven't had much help, but I would be honest and say that until know we have not done much work towards finding external support. We have had the support of Biraka Bikes bikeshop since the beginning, which every year has lent us an e-bike for the work on the trails, and has given us discounts on material, parts, etc., hat has been of great help. We are lucky that we are from a small town and I for example, at home I have brush cutters, chainsaws and tools of all kinds. I always took tools from home for the jobs, with the occasional scolding from my parents hahaha.

At the end of 2022 we received a call from Orbea, telling us that they wanted to finance part of the project, by entering their Trail Tales program for this 2023. This source of income has been essential to be able to devote more time and resources to the project, they have also left us an Orbea Rise that allows us to speed up the work on the trails and make guided routes from where we get some extra income. In addition, we have a collaboration with MuchMoreTrails, a trail tool company. We also receive help from Basaburua's town hall, facilitating the procedures with our local environmental agency, and paying for the snacks of the volunteers in the DigDays/Auzolanes that we organize, besides taking care of the expenses in the events that we organize (ambulances, insurances, etc.). We also have collaborations with different local businesses (stores, restaurants, rural houses, etc.). The idea for the following years is to strengthen these collaborations, and to get some new ones for clothing for example, since this year we have made T-shirts to try to get some extra income. Part of the funding comes from our part too, from the income we get from the guided tours we organize or from the different events (groupd rides with cycling clubs, local enduro races, etc.).

With the creation of the website, we have included a form so that any company/person who is interested in helping us can contact us. In Trailforks, we also have open the option for users to make donations. Lately we have also chosen to collaborate with users mainly to improve project visibility, such as yourself Yari, or Trailbuildermag magazine. For future relationships, for our part, we are open to all kinds of collaborations.



Yari: Describe a typical day of work on the trails.
Manu: The typical day is the one where I don't say anything to anyone, I take my dogs and tools and go to work on a trail, or to explore the mountain, until I run out of strength hahaha. Sometimes, when I feel like it, I take the GoPro and record some content. The truth is that nowadays it is as important to give visibility to the work you do as the work itself, especially when it transmits that passion.

Other times, I get together with another couple of volunteers, Jokin and Pablo Sebas, who are the people most involved in trail maintenance. I want to emphasize the work they do, as they are very consistent, and they are becoming more and more knowledgeable and experienced. When they come, or any other volunteer, we usually go to the area to work, we usually have already planned the work to be done. These days are more enjoyable, as we talk while we work, and with a couple of people, the more laborious jobs, such as making embankments, construction or simply opening new paths, are more bearable. Pablo usually brings a few beers with him and the day becomes fun. Some days we can get together 5-6 people and we can manage to do lot more.

Once a month we organize an Auzolan (Dig Day), in which we call on as many volunteers as possible, usually to build a new trail. We start the day with a small briefing to explain what needs to be done. We split the group into several smaller groups, and each one is assigned a person in charge, who are usually the most active volunteers. We work all morning, about 3-4 hours, and then we have lunch together. After lunch we usually continue working for another while. It's on days like these were we have the most fun and we make a lot of progress!


Yari: This year 2023 you participated in the Take Care of Your Trails campaign from IMBA Europe and you even won the main "Best Trail Crew" award. Tells us the story.
Manu: Well, we saw in IMBA Europe that there was a campaign and that they had done something in previous years. At first we didn't pay much attention to it, but then we saw that you started to insist on this campaing with your blog and social networks we started paying more attention to it.

From there we started to investigate a little more and we decided to sign up for the campaign. We really didn't do anything different or new, as we are always out there working on the trails and we often share on social media our trail work. We did put more emphasis on using the campaign logo, mentioning IMBA Europe and using the required hashtags. It may be that with the campaign, we have become more eager to create video content, as until now it was something we were a bit lazier about. We had wanted to create a complete video that summarized a bit of the work we had done during 2023, and we took advantage of this to present it during the campaign. In addition, a volunteer did get more involved in the campaign and helped us to present our candidacy, through a very elaborate presentation for the award, which we ended up winning in the end.

Yari: In Spain we are just beginning to see this type of trail maintenance and construction projects. In general it is something little known and appreciated, what could be done to better inform about this type of work, how they are maintained and recovered?
Manu: Well, trail work has been there for a few years now. It is just now that is being given some more visibility, and it is being seen as interesting projects, there are even some trail building crews working profesionnally like Aran Bike Parks, TrailArt Mtb, etc., but there is still a lot of work to be done.

I think there is a lack of information, a lack of media that gives visibility to all these types of projects. Everything I've seen so far, I've seen on Instagram, with the visibility that each person gives to his or her own project. You are doing a great job on that direction, through your networks and your blog, the same happens with Sean from Trailbuildermag, but that work cannot fall on one person. I think that the institutions and the media would have to do a lot of work for it. I'm not saying that tomorrow we have to have a specific program on television, but at least a small news in the newspaper, some interview on the radio, etc.

I also think that somekind of spanish trail builders meeting or summit is necessary. I think it is necessary to get to know each other, establish relationships, etc. among all of us in order to create a stronger community and help each other and improve our work.


Yari: On these type of projects people usually have to seek collaboration with the government and local entities, sometimes there are cases of success, others not so much and often there is a lack of coordination and disconnection between entities. I imagine that you have gone through this in one way or another and it has affected you directly. Do you have any comment on this?
Manu: Yes, indeed. In our case we have had two types of problems, especially at the beginning. By now I think we all know how the bureaucracy works in Spain (very slow and cumbersome!!), how all paperwork is delayed, and this of course delays the start of actual work on the trails. It is one of the worst things about this job. I remember when we were going to build the Iratxo trail, one of our first official trails. After exploring the mountain and planning everything, we prepared a report with the local forest ranger, to send it to the local environmental agency, in the Government of Navarre, to obtain the necessary permits to start the work. Several weeks went by without receiving any answers. I talked to volunteers and friends and we decided to start with the opening works. Some time after, when we got the offical authorization, we had already finished the trail. I am aware of the problems they have in other communities to open a trail, for that part we are lucky here in Navarra, but it cannot be that such a simple procedure, when there is already a favorable report from the forester, can take so long.

On the other hand, it has taken several years to receive a small economic aid from the local government, once they have seen that this work can actually work and help the local communities. Behind those jobs there are long hours of sweat and a lot of time working as a volunteer. I don't think any soccer team would set about seeding their turf if they didn't receive a grant to build their field, or the pelotaris would set about laying bricks if there were no funds to build a fronton. MTB is a sport that is booming, and I think that local governments should help more with these type of projects. I am aware that our town hall is not able to put 15 thousands euros per year for the maintenance of the trails, but they could help in the procedures to ask for part of the money to the Government of Navarra or Europe, as they do for other areas and sports.



Yari: What would be your advice to others who want to start a project similar to yours?
Manu: Do it out of passion and have patience. Having people and a local strong community involved in the project is essential for it, in my opinion, is even more important than having funding. It is clear that if there is money involved, the better, but the best work is done with passion.

It is a hard job and results take time to be visible. You want to build a new trail, but that means many trailwork hours. With one trail a new rider will visit the area, but you need more trails to atract new riders and more people. To have those users again and again in the area you need to have new things, and have everything perfectly maintained, since there are more and more areas to ride a bike, which is very good for the community.

A project like this requires you to be consistent, we like the trails to be pristine and in the best possible status, and that means investing time in it. In our case, if we took it as a job, it would not be a profitable job economically, since we put a lot of hours on the trails. But it's something we do for fun and with passion, which helps me personally a lot mentally, and that's what counts.

Yari: We always hear stories of misunderstandings and arguments with hikers and other trail users. Have you experienced these situations on your trails? How do you make all users aware of the need to share and respect each other?
Manu: We have had some problems, especially on a shared-use trail that is used by hikers to climb Mount Ernaitzu, one of the highest mountains in the area, where some unpresentable person put stones and branches as a trap. We made a statement in the Whatsapp group of the village and we also communicated it to the town council, and the issue stopped.

In our area, as is usual in Spain, we also have hunting. In the region we are lucky to have a good communication and relationship with this groups. They usually let us know the start of the hunting season and where they gonna be doing their activity with trail closure signs and other communications. We then recommend to all other trail users, mainly riders, to respect those trail closure days and warning signs.

Regarding the shared use of the trails, I have a different opinion than other MTB centers. In our case, we have two types of trails. The first is an old trail that we have cleaned up, made some repairs, etc. I think it's good that it's shared use, and that hikers have preference. In that case, we have warnings on our website and on Trailforks, that this trail is busy and to be aware of other trail users. The second would be a trail that we have opened from scratch, designed for cycling. In that case, I don't agree that hikers should have preference. In the end, it is a trail that we have designed for the bike, on which we have worked hard for it, and as far as I know no hiker has come to help, nor has he/she removed a fallen tree, since he/she "doesn't mind".

In our area, there have not been big problems because it is quite a large area, and there is not much people. But to avoid clashes, I think it would be necessary a differentiation of trails, that is, that hikers have specific trails and bicycles others, so there would be no problems.



Yari: Can you explain the importance of volunteers and their collaboration in the maintenance of trails in your region?
Manu: Having volunteers who care about the state of the trails is essential to create a strong and passionate mountain bike community. I think we've done a great job of raising awareness, especially in the last year.

When you go out on a bike ride, and you ride a trail that hasn't been maintained, and then you ride another one that has been clearly maintained, you realize the importance of this work. A couple of years ago, when we had 2-3 people working on the trails, we invested much more time than now that we have many volunteers, and now we maintain twice as many trails. So far in 2023, thanks to the volunteers, we have been able to open five new trails, well maintained and high quality.

In addition, some volunteers already go out with their saws to cut down any trees that may have fallen. All these details make it much easier and save us a lot of time.

Yari: How do you recruit or get new volunteers?
Manu: This year we have done a great job in recruiting volunteers, and we are very happy, because people of all ages, different sex, etc. are joining our trail crew. Bringing so many different people together for the same purpose is very nice.

At the end of 2022, I spoke with Doug from Basque MTB on how to attract volunteers. He mentioned the idea of maybe giving a T-shirt to each volunteer after each day as a thank you. I liked the idea, but decided to give it a couple of twists, and came up with the idea of Dig Points. The idea is that every time you go to a Dig Day, you earn a point. You can accumulate those points and then exchange them for different prizes: T-shirts, local products, use them in the local bike shop, guided tours, ski lifts, tools, etc. I believe that this has attracted more people, especially young kids who, thanks to their sweat, have obtained material to ride their bikes.

I was lucky enough to be called by the school where I had studied, to give a talk to teenagers. In that class there were already a couple of people who came to our dig days, and after the talk 6 of them came to the next one. In total, we have a group of about 10 kids of that age, who are starting with the bike and have joined in the work and volunteering. After each work session we try to ride the ones we have worked on and encourage them to continue working so that they feel that the trails they have worked on are their own and it gives them a sense of ownership and value their work. Having a large group of young people gives you hope when it comes to creating a community, because you see progress, because when we were their age, there was nothing like this here.

In total, this year we have more than 30 volunteers, and many of them are repeating in each Dig Day. The fact that they repeat is very good, since they are more and more involved in the project, and they are acquiring more trail building knowledge and experience.




Yari: What do you think is the best way for users to get involved in these tasks?
Manu: Users can help in several ways.

The first, and I think it is the best for the community and for this to progress, would be to make a donation to the association that maintains these trails. I'm talking about a small contribution, 2-3€ for each time you ride (as long as the site is in good condition), like someone who pays for parking when going to the beach. That small contribution helps a lot, people don't even know how much.

Another type of help would be to let us know if there is any incident (fallen tree, defective structure, etc.) on a trail. Trailforks is very good for these things, and it makes it much easier for us, since it provides us with the necessary information to know from home what problem we are going to face.

Another way to help us would be to come to the dig days. There are many users who are unaware of the work involved in building a trail, and realizing this would be beneficial for them to see the work behind it, and with that knowledge perhaps they would contribute more.

Finally, consuming in local shops, restaurants, is fundamental, so that local businesses support this type of project.


Yari: What are the biggest challenges you face as a community?
Manu: Without a doubt, creating a community that cares about the environment, the condition of the trails, and expanding that community. We are working on a skills area, with trails of different difficulties, concentrated in a small area near the village of Aizarotz, called Basati Park. The idea is to create a small school, both to do some riding technique courses and to start transmitting notions of maintenance and construction of trails to new users.

Yari: Thank you for your time, anything we have left out, any comments you would like to make, questions, thanks?
Manu: Thanks again to all the volunteers who are accompanying us on this path, to all the people who are encouraging us to continue working, to all the users who visit us, to all the companies that support us, and to all the people who help us share this project. Lots of encouragement to all those who are dedicated to design, build and maintain trails, that although sometimes it is a very hard work, it is very comforting and makes you feel special.

I would like to send an invitation to the readers to get to know Basaburua, not only for the good and varied trails that we have, but also for the environment, local people and products that we have. It is an area that will hook you! Of course, be prepared to suffer to get to the top, here the downhill trails must be won hahaha.

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