What does it take to create a new trail system? The Harvest Fields Community Trails Success Story

What does it take to create a new trail system? The Harvest Fields Community Trails Success Story

What does it take to create a new trail system from scratch? In State College, Pennsylvania a group of mountain bikers brought together their local riding community to tackle a project that ended up being much bigger than they originally anticipated. Everyone at Stan's NoTubes is thrilled to have helped support their efforts and is excited to see new riders find the sport of mountain biking. We caught up with Scott Sheeder, former president of the Nittany Mountain Bike Association, and Josh Stapleton, project lead and a member of Calvary Church, who were both monumental in bringing the Harvest Fields Community Trails to life.

Photos by Mike Bush

Stan's NoTubes: State College, Pennsylvania and the surrounding area is known for its incredible, yet very technical riding. What caused you to begin thinking about creating a more inviting trail system for beginner riders?

Scott Sheeder: I was president of the Nittany Mountain Biking Association for three years. During that time, I received all the general inquiries from people requesting information on the local riding. I was astonished at the number of requests that we received from people searching for advice on where to start mountain biking. Requests were pretty evenly distributed between parents looking for activities for their kids and adults looking to improve their fitness. I would reply with a list of our easiest loops and would commonly receive replies like, "I have trouble hiking that trail! People actually ride that?!?". As a club, we were trying to figure out how to provide safe, fun, beginner riding opportunities when Josh Stapleton walked into a club meeting with the Harvest Fields idea.

Josh Stapleton: So I was one of those guys that Scott mentioned, we were a family looking for outdoor adventure options and there were no good MTB options for beginners in the area. My daughter started riding on the local youth MTB team, the Centre County Crows, and this further reinforced there were not many good places to learn MTB in town. As a long time member of Calvary Church, I knew of their desire to share the amazing Harvest Fields property and professionally designed and built high-quality trails are an amazing way to share the land.

SNT: What was the most difficult hurdle that you were required to work through?

SS: The project actually progressed very smoothly. We had a core group of very dedicated, smart, hard-working folks that pulled this project together without any major hurdles. Probably the toughest obstacles to overcome were related to mitigating conflict between the user groups. The Harvest Fields Community Trails are built on private property. The property is owned by Calvary church. The church has done a fantastic job of inviting the community to enjoy their property, and they have a disc golf course, ponds for fishing and swimming, picnic areas, housing for the church pastor, and locations where church members regularly meet. Designing a trail system that maintained the core function of providing beginner to intermediate level mountain biking opportunities while not impinging on the other uses of the property was a challenge. Designing a system to meet these needs was beyond the capability of our club, and we recognized that immediately. We hired Jeremy Wimpey from Applied Trails Research for design and guidance during construction. Jeremy's help was invaluable at many points during this project.

JS: While there was a ton of work to bring the project to reality over the past two years, the process was amazingly smooth.

SNT: After successfully planning, fundraising, and launching the Harvest Fields Community Trails, what advice would you give to another local riding community looking to tackle a similar project?

SS: 1) Have a plan. Applied Trails Research was contracted to create a trail system plan for the site. Having a professional do this was key to our success—it immediately gave people confidence that the plan would work. Building sustainable, fun, and safe mountain bike trails is complicated and expensive (though not even close to the cost of a baseball field if you're considering alternatives)!! A plan designed by a well-known professional gives the project credibility from the start and goes a long way to ensuring that there won't be huge surprises down the road.

2) Assemble a good team. If you've never done this before, it's more work than you think. We had a core group of 5-6 people who worked for two years to bring this project together (a ring leader, 2-3 fundraisers, a treasurer, and a trail building guru). After putting a plan on paper, it's fundraising time! Knocking on doors, presenting to foundations, etc. takes time and organization. It's a whole lot easier if you have a good group of people that are all contributing to the effort. Phase 1 of Harvest Fields cost $235,000. We will start on phase 2 after we've raised some more money, so stay tuned!

3) Communicate with your community. We put together a Facebook page and an email list for the trail system, and regularly posted progress updates with photos. Our following grew throughout the project. We've had three events at the trail system, and the attendance at each far exceeded our expectations. This outreach effort is important for many reasons: it engages the community which will be essential when we host maintenance events, it gets the project "out there" so when you show up at an organization asking for resources the decision-makers are already aware and (hopefully) on board with the mission, and it builds enthusiasm for outdoor recreation in your community. Our hope is that this is the start of something larger in State College. We're not all about football! We hope that as more and more people experience this trail system, enthusiasm for cycling in general, and building trails, in particular, continues to grow in our community.

JS: Have a compelling vision that truly benefits the community, find a core group of people willing to put in the work to make it happen (we had a core group of 6 folks for HFCT), pay for a professional to plan the project, and build it correctly using sustainable practices—this is a ton of work—our professional contractor, Dirt Artisans, spent > 3,000 man-hours with a full complement of machinery to bring our trails to life—building high quality, sustainable trails is a ton of work.