Here’s what we got up to in 2018. It was a busy year behind the scenes, even though you may not have seen much visible we have been working hard.
It’s no secret that the Tweed Valley plays host to a large network of unsanctioned hand built mountain bike trails. These trails are also becoming more well known within the wider mountain bike community every time the Valley is used as a venue in national and international Enduro races. But who is it exactly that uses these trails, and what is the effect they have on the local area and community, both good and bad?
The trail network has grown steadily over the last decade, mainly in Glentress, Traquair and Caberston forests, developing alongside the 7 Stanes trails but stretching right across the Valley through other areas of forest such as Yair, Thornilee and Cademuir. The trails have been hand dug by a core of keen trail builders, mostly local to the Tweed Valley, and built primarily for personal use. However, as the network has grown and word has spread, the high standard of these wild trails has brought bikers from further afield, keen to test their riding skills and enjoy more of what the Tweed Valley area could offer. As these trails were then used by local, national and international race events, their fame grew, and the Tweed Valley soon became a mecca for both UK and International mountain bikers.
It’s easy to see how well used this network of trails has become. Take a walk through any forest in the Tweed Valley forest park where these trails exist, especially during weekends and holidays, and you will bump into mountain bikers. Riders travel from all over the country to the Tweed Valley trails, the new uplift at Innerleithen is often fully booked, and some aspects of the wild trail network are just as well ridden as the marked down hill trails. Caberston forest or ‘The Golfie’ can seem as busy as Glentress Trail Centre on a sunny weekend!
The trails are used by a huge variety of people, and despite their unsanctioned origin, both the trail builders and the overwhelming majority of riders care deeply about making them sustainable. They provide recreation, fitness, personal challenge and social interaction to their users. Mass participation in Mountain Biking is still relatively new, but is still a growing sport. As a result, the standard of the everyday rider, and the capabilities of their bike, have risen exponentially in recent years. With bikes becoming more capable, and their riders looking for trails that develop skills and present personal challenge, the network of trails in the Tweed Valley has grown and changed to provide these opportunities. It is the very existence of these trails that ensures these riders come to the Valley, with all the benefits that adventure tourism brings – accommodation providers, pubs and restaurants, convenience stores, bike shops, and local stores all benefit financially from the increased visitor numbers that these wild trails bring to the Tweed Valley.
The problem, however, is that these wild trails are still only being maintained by the same handful of keen and dedicated trail builders who originally built them, and they simply cannot keep up. Trails become damaged and unsafe, and less enjoyable to ride. Because these trail builders are essentially developing the land in an unsanctioned manner, they work without knowledge and co-operation from key stakeholders and landowners, not maliciously or deliberately, but trails can be built in areas that lead to conflict with other users, and friction can arise from there.
So how do we fix this problem? Losing the trail network would be a huge blow to the Tweed Valley – it brings tourism, recreation, opportunity, and encourages an active community. The newly formed Tweed Valley Trail Association (TVTA) has been set up to help recognise these trails as the community asset they should be and maintain and protect them accordingly. We can be the bridge between land owners, builders and users, and aim to bring these trails under our stewardship as we grow. Crucially, we can work with all the users of the forest park – walkers, bikers, horse riders, locals, and tourists – to make sure the forest stays useable for everyone.
TVTA is comprised of keen mountain bikers, walkers, runners, climbers and outdoors people, and we love the trails and the forest park. Our ultimate aim is to help make it sustainable and beneficial to the whole community, with our area of expert interest being the wild trails across the entire Tweed Valley Forest Park.
What’s happening with the TVTA?
We’ve had lots of enquiries about what TVTA is doing at the moment, so we wanted to give you an update on where we are at and what we’ve been working on.
It’s been a busy few months since we got the board established in December 2017. It’s mainly been working on all the essential setup stuff like getting our comms, governance and paperwork together, but we need to do this before we get to the good stuff- getting our hands dirty and digging trails!
First thing was to get the board set up and roles and responsibilities sorted - and what a great group of people we have on board! There's a wealth of experience with trail builders, a trail coordinator for races, an accountant, business admin, governance and community engagement experts. A fantastic mix of folk to run the charity. Everyone is a volunteer with busy lives, and they are all giving their own time to help develop a sustainable trail infrastructure for the Tweed Valley's wild trails.
The start up stuff takes time, but in the meantime we've got to give credit to Cat who’s developed an awesome new website. Gordon MacRae has been gathering info from riders through the recent riders survey, Gordon Smith has been getting our tools and safety equipment together using local suppliers, Colin and Marc’s experience of trail management has helped them start bringing together trail management plans, Krysia’s been getting our finances together so we can take donations and raise funds for the charity, Chris and Neil have been moving things forward with Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES), and Aneela as TVTA Secretary keeps everyone and everything organised. Busy!!!
We’ve also been getting volunteers trained up and ready for dig days. Lots of paper work around this with health and safety being a top priority, but once it's in place we can hopefully take it forward to make it easier to engage with landowners. Thanks to Gav Storie, Ewan Sandison, Kev Murray, Neil Carnegie, Aneela McKenna and Chris Ball who all are now qualified trail repair co-ordinators. We will be looking for more volunteers for Trail Inspector and Volunteer Leader courses, so keep an eye out for more info. We need to get an army of dig dudes and dudettes - to dig for victory!
We’ve also had a couple of very productive meetings with FES to tell them about our vision and what our plans are for the future. There's been a great positive dialogue with the officials from FES and can't thank DMBinS enough for their support and collaboration with getting the TVTA off the ground. It's important that we continue to develop and work in partnership with land managers in the Tweed Valley - we hope that this gets us to a position where we can help manage the trail network. In the meantime, we are delighted to be supporting Andy and Mark from the Trail Fairies with their Innerleithen "Take Care of Your Trails Weekend" over the 7th and 8th April. This is going to take place on the lower Innerleithen DH tracks and is one of the few times there has been an open invite for the public to come and work on projects outside the trail centres. Get the dates in your diary - more info to follow.
So that’s it for now! Look out for the results of the survey, which we're still wading through - massive engagement, thank you!!! There was a prize draw to everyone who entered, and we'll be posting the winner on the Facebook page shortly.
Our first six trail inspectors and trail repair coordinators are now officially qualified after an excellent weekend of learning with Clive Forth. Thanks to DMbinS for funding our qualifications and helping us get one step closer to our mission of official community work on the Tweed Valley trail network.