The Kansas Trails Council on Monday released details of the plan to repair the damaged trail system at Clinton State Park in Lawrence.
The plan was announced nine days after the Kansas City Trail Nerds played host to the Free State Trail Runs on April 18 at the park. The event, which took place on the North Shore Trails, included a half marathon, marathon, 40-mile run and 100K run. Approximately 250 runners participated, some who ran two or three laps of the course.
Conditions were dry when the event began, but an early thunderstorm soaked the trails. The races continued, and a majority of the trail system was mangled by the time the 17-hour event concluded.
Members of the wide-ranging trail-using community have been vocal in their demands for accountability after around 20 miles of trail were damaged. The Trail Nerds organization faces no fines for the damage caused by its event, however it is expected to play a large role in the repair effort.
Neil Taylor, Clinton Lake System Coordinator for the Kansas Trails Council, sounded an optimistic tone when I spoke to him about the plan Monday morning.
“We have had damage like this in the past from other promoters,” Taylor said. “We have been able to repair and move on.”
Ben Holmes, Kansas City Trail Nerds owner and race director of the Free State Trail Runs, met with Taylor from the KTC and Clinton State Park interim Director Bruce Husman on Friday to discuss the damage and develop the foundation of a two-phased plan. Details were fine-tuned throughout the weekend.
Phase one of the plan focuses on repairing the trails. It places a heavy emphasis on training new trail-builders to be able to lead work crews. Volunteers can take two-hour training courses where they will be instructed in International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) sustainable trail-building standards.
There will be both scheduled and unscheduled workdays, meaning that in addition to scheduled events volunteers also will have access to trail-building tools if they choose to perform repair work in their free time.
“Basically, the plan is to have people that want to do trail work to team up with an IMBA-trained volunteer/leader, and work on planned and unplanned trail work days,” Holmes wrote on the Trail Nerds’ Facebook page. “The park will keep some Kansas Trails Council tools (to loan out), with a large map of where work needs to be done. When the work is done, the tools will be returned and the work quantified and accounted for on the map.”
According to the KTC press release:
“Unfortunately, because the trail damage is so widespread and significant, the repair cannot be accomplished on a few organized Saturday workdays. Instead, the repair will require an ongoing effort of hundreds of hours over the next several months. Recognizing that most trail users do not have access to trail building tools, we are in the process of setting up a cache of hand tools and developing a system to check out and return tools and to monitor the repair work as it progresses.
Prior to beginning the repair work, volunteers will be asked to attend a short training workshop to insure that the trail repair meets sustainable trail building standards and that the tools are safely used. After the workshop, volunteers can then work on their own schedules. The KTC will monitor the quality of repair and report on the progress in the coming months.”
The training workshops will take place at the Corps of Engineers Visitor Center Office, 872 N. 1042 Rd., in the park. The first two sessions are at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Saturday, May 2. Those interested can sign up here: http://www.enter2run.com/search/event.aspx?id=32930 (I will be at the 11 a.m. session).
Taylor and Mike Goodwin, also of the KTC, will teach the courses.
Taylor has been building and maintaining trails in Lawrence for 20 years, first as a founding member of the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club and then with the KTC. He said he hopes the training courses and trail repair work educate a new wave of trail volunteers that can have a long-term positive impact on the community.
He also is confident that the damaged trail can be successfully repaired.
“With the amount of people that contacted me, including several local organizations, I think we are going to have a ton of manpower,” he said. “So if everything goes right with the weather, equipment, and things like that, I think we can be done by the end of next month.”
While phase one of the plan is focused on repair, phase two is about prevention.
Taylor said the KTC will work with Clinton State Park and the Army Corps of Engineers examine current protocol for holding events and make changes where needed, including addressing when to require alternate courses be used and the possible cancellation of events.
COMMENTARY: “TRAILABAN” REFERENCE HINDERS HEALING
While a plan is now in place to help heal the damaged trails at Clinton State Park, the greater Kansas City trail-using community is focusing on healing, too.
A social media firestorm in the aftermath of the Free State Trail Runs pitted members of various trail-using groups against each other, and even saw runner-on-runner outrage. As tensions calmed, many called for reconciliation and unity. The healing has been visible in a number of ways, from direct outreach between groups, to trail-runners and mountain bikers teaming up to build trails, to improved civil discourse. Still, there is a long way to go.
In a Facebook post Sunday, Holmes made a plea for the trail community to try to “move on in a positive direction, TOGETHER.”
Earlier in that same post, however, Holmes lashed out at those who had made critical posts in reaction to the race not being canceled and the trails being damaged. He referred to them as “The Trailaban” for being “uncompromising with their bikes-only or running-only or equine-only ideology.” The “Trailaban” reference was an apparent play on the Taliban, whom the United States military fought for more than a decade in Afghanistan. Those people were blocked from the site because their comments got out of hand, he claimed.
The claim was partly false, however, as a thorough review of the comments made and people blocked showed that many who Holmes lumped into his “Trailaban” made non-confrontational comments, supported trail repair efforts, or – in the case of Urban Trail Co. president Ben Reed – only posted information detailing how to contact the group to get involved. Others did not post a single comment and only “liked” a status. That was the case for a military mom whose son served in the United States Army in Afghanistan and came under frequent mortar fire from the Taliban.
Holmes has yet to remove the “Trailaban” reference despite being called out by a long-time trail steward, event promoter, and KTC member. (*editor’s note: this sentence was amended to clarify that the “Trailaban” reference remains on the site as of 10:56 a.m. Tuesday. The original version said it had been removed.)
The divisive tone may hinder the repairs to Clinton State Park, and it certainly hinders our trail-using community’s ability to heal and move forward.
That word does not imply “positive” or “TOGETHER.” It is divisive, destructive to the community, and pushes away good people who have a considerable amount of experience building trails, leading work crews, and teaching trail-building skills to new volunteers. Those are resources that would be valuable to have in the weeks and months ahead. Our community needs to expect better.