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Mountain bike organization mission keeps pathways open for all

CONCORD—There was a time over two decades ago when a local group of mountain bikers sought to get involved with trail maintenance and riding at places around Western New York, but saw resistance from government agencies wary of the activity.

It took time, but those early efforts led the way for an organization to form that would help maintain park trails open for everyone and change the perception of those riders.    

“It was an uphill battle those first 10 years of its existence...there was a stereotype of riders being hooligans and loud,” Jacob Bodway said.

Bodway is the president of the Western New York Mountain Bicycling Association, the organization formed in 1992 with a mission to add mountain bike trails around the area and create a fun and inclusive group open for anyone interested in joining. It helps maintain trails in Ellicottville, Sprague Brook Park, Hunters Creek Park and Letchworth State Park. More recently, the group has been active in developing a trail with a $100,000 grant that would go from Ellicottville to Warren, Pa., and will contribute about $18,000 in labor for the project. The group has also had a voice in the development of a $5 million riding center at the Outer Harbor in Buffalo.

The work and dedication by the members of WNYMBA when it first started helped set the stage for where it is now. Bodway was not there in the early days – he joined the group around 2012 and became president this year – but he has learned a lot about the group since joining.

One of the first trails created by the group was in Ellicottville. It was built into the contour of the hill, following a natural path through the forest. It was also built in a way that allows water to flow off easy and requires little maintenance, a “model trail,” he said. Those early routes, called singletrack trails, helped convince county and state agencies that the group was serious about its work in promoting the local parks in an environmentally safe way.

“Once we started doing trail maintenance, they gave us more leeway,” he said.

As the group started making trails it continued to maintain the current trails with spring trail cleaning days, visiting each park and getting its members to help. It is an all volunteer group, the membership dues go to trail maintenance and also to the International Mountain Bicycling Association, a larger group of which WNYMBA is a chapter.

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Bodway said the group now has over 200 members, which helps when they go to government agencies and can show they have support from their members to help with projects. He said it was important to note that the trails made by WNYMBA are open to anyone who uses the park. Hikers and, in places like Hunters Creek, horse riders are allowed to use the trails. The paths are not only for mountain biking.

“We want to see people out in the woods having a good time. It doesn’t matter if they are on a bike or not,” Bodway said.

Another part that has helped the group gain favor in the region is that those riders bring money to local regions. They may stay at hotels, visit restaurants or bars and shop at local stores after going for a bike ride. Those “eco tourism dollars” are something the group’s leaders continue to promote when working alongside municipalities.

Along with the work, the group tries to promote a fun and inclusive atmosphere, Bodway said. There are regular trail rides planned on Wednesday nights at Sprague Brook Park. They are open to all abilities and people who are not members of the organization. It is a chance to teach people how to ride and learn more about WNYMBA. They also have a camping date set for Holiday Valley just for the members of the group in August.

For more information about the Western New York Mountain Bicycling Association and dates for trail rides, people can visit the website http://www.wnymba.org/ or the Facebook page for current updates.

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