Canadian Cyclist


March 2/09 23:11 pm - Creating Strong Partnerships for Trails

Posted by Editor on 03/2/09

Early land management decisions were based on a perception of mountain bikers as "strangers" - different, unknown, alien, and perhaps dangerous. They didn't know what to expect from us. As mountain bikers organized we took our place at the table with land managers and other user groups. We were admitted to the public policy process and acknowledged as "stakeholders", but questions of what we wanted and how compatible it was with land manager and other user group's values was still not known. Now, we are often full partners with a sense of clear responsibilities and a shared commitment to an ongoing relationship. While we should be extremely proud of our contributions to date, partnerships are difficult and require certain kinds of communication. We need to constantly learn from our experience.

Tips for Building Partnerships

Patience is Vital: Land management decisions and processes are often slow. A partnership relationship requires staying power and a commitment to work things through to completion.
Be Civil: Partners often disagree, but they handle their disagreements with respect for the other. On the practical side, it's likely that you or other mountain bikers will be working with that land manager in the future. Don't burn bridges.
Strive for Clarity: Both sides need to communicate clearly. From our earliest days, mountain bikers have asked for equity in terms of trail mileage and diversity of experience; generally open, shared-use trails, and fact-based decision making.
Understand the Needs of Others: We have a great deal to offer land managers, besides our sweat equity we can work together on super-ordinate goals, those that require the cooperation of both parties. These include: environmental awareness and protection, health, opportunities for family recreation, political support constituency for public lands and economic development.
Success Breeds Success: Small accomplishments add up and create new, larger opportunities. It's just like riding. Forward momentum keeps us moving.

There are specific challenges to participating in partnership relationships. These include:

Finding the right person to represent mountain bikers. The need for good communication and long-term commitment in public policy work is not for everyone. We need to cultivate leadership.
Bureaucratic turnover. Often land manager leave or take new positions. It's important to work on smooth transitions where the positive working relationship is effectively transferred.
Adapting to change. As goals and needs change, (for example our emergent need for technical features on trails) our partnerships need to adapt.

We share many values with land managers and we should seek out opportunities to partner to help them, to accomplish our needs and to achieve our goals.

Additional IMBA References:

Stranger to Stakeholder to Partner
Building a Trails Community
Sample Memorandum Of Understandings (MOU)

If you have any questions, concerns or comments contact IMBA's Canadian office at: IMBA PO Box 23034, Kitchener, Ontario, N2B 3V1,


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