The team at Dean Trail Volunteers have been hard at work renovating some of the Forest of Dean’s crown jewels over the last few months.
Another example of riders coming together to help push sensible trail access forward, the Dean Trail Volunteers have been updating trails like GBU and Corkscrew in the Forest of Dean over the summer for everyone’s enjoyment.
Pete caught up with the Dean Trail Volunteers’ Organiser of the Trail Pixies and Chair, Ruth Hallett to find out what’s involved.
How did the Dean Trail Volunteers come about?
The trails in the Forest of Dean have been around for much longer than we have, they began and were developed naturally for many years, by passionate mountain bikers and local bikes shop enthusiasts building by hand. Over the years as the trails developed, races were organised and the world-famous bacon and egg sandwiches really began drawing in more and more mountain bikers.
Unfortunately, the trails began to suffer with the increased traffic on the trails so were becoming tired and a bit worn out. They were calling out for some love and care. The Forestry Commission put an add out for volunteers in our local rag and our founding members, including our head trail pixie, Alan Grist, were listening. Over 11 years ago the first meeting was organised and the Dean Trail Volunteers were formed.
Our first goal was to start repairing some of the most worn out and dangerous sections, after we began working towards expanded the network of trails.
How many people make up the Dean Trail Volunteers and what do they do?
Organiser of the Trail Pixies – Ruth Hallett (Chair)
Singletrack Specialist – Lee Hunwick (Assistant Chair)
Tool Shed Organiser – Amanda Copp (Secretary)
Head Trail Pixie – Alan Grist (Dig Officer)
Berm Crafter – Richard Hallett (Marketing and Communications Officer)
Funding Forager – Rob Yates (Fundraising Officer)
Keeper of the Trail Tool Piggy Bank – Helen Matravers (Finance Officer)
Airtime Analyst – James Addison (Health and Safety Officer)
Ground Grafters – Phil Thompson, Ian Officer and Sam Copp (Non Executives)
We are also lucky enough to have about 10 loyal diggers, the Whacker-Plate Warriors, who turn up rain or shine.
How have you managed rider needs against landowner/user conflict?
This is something we have had to learn, adapt and be flexible for. We have made some mistakes and can’t always be perfect, but we’ve learnt the best way to approach this is keeping an open and flexible dialog with everyone. Most people concerned also share the same love of the Forest of Dean as we do, so communication is key. We are currently looking to develop the Freeminers (red trail), and reaching out to anyone with concerns or ideas, to help us share our love of the outdoors with all and reduce tension between riders and other trail users.
The trails are on Forestry England land, so we have worked hard to define how we work together and in a memorandum of understanding, which is pretty much a formal version of a Gentleman’s Agreement. It is this agreement helps us to develop the trails together.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Everything and nothing, at the same time. There is a very, very fine line between love and hate. In just the last year as a collective we have put in thousands of volunteer hours, it’s hard work, and can be frustrating at times. We are proud of what we are doing though, it’s rewarding to see the smiles of happy riders, and of course we also reap the rewards of our own hard work. We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t love it.
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
The DTV is a product of our spare time, so we have continued to work our day jobs. A few of us are self-employed and at times have decided DTV takes precedent over our freelance work.
Are you working alongside to make ends meet?
We are all still working or retired.
Most of the money to maintain the trails comes from the public, we receive donations of riding kit, used parts and unwanted gifts, which we sell this at Pedal A Bike Away at tables sales (dates are advertised on our website). Feel free to stop by at the next one.
We also get donations from some race organisers and a bit of money from grants.
We have a few plans to help raise some more money, such as our on-line raffle and setting up a direct debit, but we always up for anyone giving us more ideas to increase the coffers.
Have you had to overcome any major obstacles to get to this point?
Each new project and build comes with its own set of obstacles, and difficulties. But more recently it’s becoming more difficult to actually put a spade in the ground, there’s a lot of paperwork that needs to be done, risk assessments, dig plans and proposals, which all need to be submitted and approved. It’s not quite as simple as walking into the woods with a bag full of tools unfortunately.
We understand why these rules need to be followed for the FE, and it helps us keep people safe and legal and avoids conflict by everyone being on the same page. The digging bit is the bit we love the most though.
How did you narrow it down to renovating GBU and Corkscrew?
At the first stakeholder meeting, where we voted in the new committee members in May 19, we put everything on the table, discussed all the work which is needed to be done and decided what work was the most pressing. We find this helps us think about the trails in a purely critical way, and not just our favourite trails. It was here we decided that GBU and Corkscrew were in need of some TLC.
What was involved in that process?
A number of the trail crew have attended the trail checking and inspection training course and this allows us to carry out our own professional inspections of trails. The inspections allow us to critically look at which maintenance needs to be done and which trails are in need of a complete renovation. We have a work plan for the year, which helps to keep us on track, but we also have the flexibility to pick up any urgent repair work which requires attention from a health and safety perspective.
We begin by making an inventory of the trail; this involves documenting every feature on the trail and developing a GPS map. Once this is in place, we have a baseline and then do inspections and are able to easily mark down issues with the trails, this makes the repair process much faster and we can prioritise different issues. We are also able to identify sections of trails that require a lot of repeated work, and we can make changes to reduce maintenance without disrupting the flow of the trail.
How do you decide which trails to work on going forward?
We have an annual plan and then update it based on the inspections, but we are also always listening to riders about what they want.
Where next for Dean Trail Volunteers? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
As with every part of modern life Covid-19 has caused us some issues, and our current focus is learning how to move forward in our new world. We have undertaken a risk assessment for Covid-19 and we are now going to cautiously start back. We will now have to make sure we only have six in each group and we have enough people leading the dig and first aiders to cover the split groups of diggers.
From the 25th July, we will be running digs every other Wednesday and Saturday. We will be asking people to let us know they plan to attend, whereas before it was a lot more informal – just turn up. Keep an eye on social media and the calendar on our website for more details.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
There’s too many to mention. So, sorry to everyone.
Alan Grist, previous chair has been a core part of DTV for over 11 years, so a big shout out to Paula his wife who lost her husband to the trails during that time.
We would also like to thank the public for their generous donations, keep them coming and companies who have donated items to sell or give as prizes and the local businesses who regularly support us.
Enjoy the trails everyone, and we’re always open to ideas and suggestions.
You can find out everything you need to know about volunteering and donating to the Dean Trail Volunteers on their website here.
Read all our other interviews on our Features page here.