The Vermont Mountain Bike Association may have changed Vermont (see “How Mountain Biking Changed Vermont“). But these three people were part of the forces behind VMBA which made all this happen. On the occasion of VMBA’s 25th anniversary we ask three leaders — past and present — about the challenges and rewards of their tenures.
Volunteer board member from 2005-2006, then paid Executive Director from 2006 to 2011.
Biggest challenges: Some public land managers were initially reluctant to embrace the growth in popularity of mountain bike access and didn’t really meet that demand with new trails. On the flip side, non-sanctioned trail building was occurring, as mountain bikers were frustrated at the slow progress, It took dozens of meetings over many years to create an atmosphere of trust, which has eventually led to increased trail access.
Biggest accomplishment: The partnership with the Green Mountain National Forest, initially in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area, then expanding GMNF trail networks to Blueberry Lake in Warren.
Coolest trail built during your tenure: the Chandler Ridge Trail in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area is a one-of-a-kind trail in Vermont. A long traverse, (re)built at higher elevation, it has a remote, backcountry feel to it. It links up with Leicester Hollow Trail which was damaged in a flood in 2008 and then had to be rebuilt. The rebuilding was a massive effort by the VYCC. If you ride the 10-mile loop today, you probably have no idea what work went into it!
Best event(s) during your tenure: We held an annual spring conference for ski resorts from throughout the northeast and Quebec from 2007-2011. The presenters were staff from IMBA Trail Solutions, Gravity Logic and local trail builders, with the content focused on developing mountain bike parks and trail systems, both at lift-served and XC ski resorts. The event was well attended, with up to 65 attendees each year from dozens of resorts and Governor Douglas was the keynote speaker for one event. I hope that the event was a catalyst for the growth of resort-based mountain biking in the region.
Public policy changes that impacted mountain biking: The VMBA agreement with the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation was signed in 2006 immediately before I started with VMBA – the agreement legalized the Perry Hill Trails in Waterbury and the Camels Hump Trail in Fayston. In fact, the agreement was the catalyst for creating the Executive Director position. So the signing of that agreement and then administering it (managing trail building projects and grants in order to uphold our end of the agreement) was a big lift in terms of staff and volunteer time and a significant policy initiative. It’s great to see those networks being well managed now by local clubs, and to see that trails in Little River State Park have been added to the list of mountain bike trails on state land.
Best memory: Easily, the movie night that we would do each spring at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center on the waterfront in Burlington! We would secure premier rights for that year’s big mountain bike movie release, rent the theatre, and pack the house for two shows each time on a Saturday evening in May. Vermont always had a vibrant ski movie culture in the fall, with the big release films getting skiers stoked for the upcoming winter, but there wasn’t previously a mountain bike equivalent. We held this event in May each year for several years (2007-2011) and it was a blast – people would come from all over and it felt like a state-wide mountain bike community was building, where it hadn’t existed before.
VMBA is a phenomenal organization these days – it’s very different from when I was there. There is now a much larger chapter structure, an industry-leading database and membership management system, and grants for local groups, all leading to increased access across the state. My hat is off to them!
TOM STUESSY Executive Director from 2012 to 2020
Biggest challenges: When I started at VMBA, we were scrambling to honor Vermont’s rich riding and trail-building history while building an outward-facing organization stable enough to handle the sport’s exploding popularity. In the beginning, the popularity of riding was outpacing the organization and the gritty, unspoken riding that defined the Vermont mountain bike culture was becoming vulnerable to the sport’s growth.
Getting organized and establishing representation empowered the riding community’s voice in a meaningful way. This gave way to numerous (and still growing) commercial opportunities to embolden Vermont’s economy. By organizing, we could partner with those who wanted to engage and give a tip of the hat to those that didn’t. Progress was sustained through board and chapter support. I was extended a lot of grace to learn and make mistakes as we grew. Every time people stayed curious and listened, we achieved another breakthrough. I am grateful for how much I learned from the challenges.
Biggest accomplishment: VMBA’s progress is the result of how Vermonters pursue their passions. I’m most proud of our riding community working together to launch the state-wide model of chapters. More than membership, it facilitated individuals’ access to organized state-wide advocacy while remaining loyal to their home chapter. The Add-On portion of the model —where members could ‘add on’ ‘a second or third chapter to their membership—gave riders a voice in multiple locations and provided additional support to every chapter. The Naming Grants program gave Vermont’s business community measured access to our precious landscape in collaboration with chapters.
Coolest trail built during your tenure: The coolest trail built during my time was our first Naming Grant project supported by Burton and built by the Waterbury Area Trail Alliance at Perry Hill. The hope was the program would give Vermont businesses a chance to empower their employees by letting them support the building of a trail. I’m excited to see the program still doing its thing today.
Best event(s) during your tenure: Soon after we launched the statewide model, chapters quickly developed a long list of amazing events. The enthusiasm at chapters’ spring kick-off parties is incredible. Riders showing support, excitement, and an awareness of what their participation means is an amazing feeling.
Public policy changes that impacted mountain biking: During my tenure, a lot of resources were devoted to land management policy. Much of that effort continues today. Progress was defined by how much new access we could find, which happened in many parts of Vermont because of the amazing work by chapters. Vermont’s success depends on the role private landowners play in outdoor recreation access. Moving forward, it is critical their participation is shown great respect and is free from unsuitable regulation.
Best memory: I was riding in Stowe one day and when I returned to the parking lot, I overheard two other groups talking. When asking for trail info, one of them said, “What are those orange things on everyone’s bike?” The local rider responded, “It’s my VMBA chapter membership strip – it’s how we support our trails here. You should join.” Riders that have been around for a minute know the orange strip was early in our new system. That answer, in that location, was a signal that we were on the right track. It inspired me to keep charging.
Executive Director: March 2021 to present
Biggest challenges: Keeping up with the rapid growth in trail use, specifically ensuring our chapters are sufficiently resourced to both stay on top of trail maintenance and grow their networks to accommodate new users. Relatedly, the demand for more trails has also led to rogue/unauthorized trail building that itself has been a significant challenge.
Biggest accomplishment: Successfully growing the VMBA central team to include three incredible full-time and two equally incredible part-time staff. It’s still behind where we would ideally be in terms of capacity, but we punch well above our weight and plan to further grow the team in the not-too-distant future.
Coolest trail built during your tenure: That’s a tough one, though I’d have to say the new half of Six Flags at Perry Hill, which was completed last summer. Working closely with VT Forest Parks & Rec, our Waterbury Area Trail Alliance (WATA) Chapter retired an old trail (Duct Tape) that was neither much fun nor very sustainable and work with Ideride builders to replace it with a ~0.3 mile masterpiece of rockwork, tech, and flow – which also happens to be a short ride from the VMBA office.
Best event(s) during your tenure: The Member Party VMBA hosted with Skirack last October was truly amazing. It was awesome to see so many folks come together and celebrate the riding season that was, while we also announced our grand prize Reward Volunteers winner and thanked many of our incredible supporters in person. I could not have imagined a better way to wrap the 2021 season.
Public policy changes that impacted mountain biking: There have been many before my tenure, most notably the Landowner Liability Act and Rule 71 (which designates public-access trails as municipal projects under Act 250). Over the last 12 months, VMBA – working through the Vermont Trails & Greenways Council – has secured important additional clarifications for when and how Act 250 jurisdiction applies to trails and prevented the development of more onerous regulations.