Lake Tahoe mountain biking trails a credit to TAMBA leadership
September 23, 2015
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — If you've been riding Tahoe Basin mountain bike trails long enough, you've seen change. There's a reason why regional trails are as good as they've ever been, and increasingly receiving recognition on the national and international scene. Ask around and people will tell you — recent attention is in large part credited to Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association (TAMBA).
Last year, the group logged an estimated 4,000 hours on various trail work projects. That's a number TAMBA president Ben Fish said will increase this year.
But it wasn't always that way. Founded in 1988 by a small group that included longtime local and Sierra Ski & Cycle Works owner Gary Bell, the group started strong under his leadership — growing to over 1,500 members — but then faded to obscurity in the early 2000s.
"I had run it for 13 years," Bell, a well respected member of the biking community, said. "We needed new people to come and take over, but they didn't quite put the energy out we'd hoped and it went dormant."
Fish and his wife Amy moved to the area during that down period.
"There was nothing going on," he said. "There was no voice for mountain bikers."
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Then in 2010 the U.S. Forest Service hosted a trails conference in conjunction with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) — a strong advocating body for bike groups and bike legislation.
The meeting led to a new enthusiasm for biking stewardship and what essentially resulted in the reboot of the group, TAMBA 2.0 in early 2011.
Tahoe Basin's U.S. Forest Service engineer Mike Gabor called changes since that meeting "dramatic."
"They went from a handful of participants to dozens and dozens," he said, and the trail work that resulted was equally impressive.
Gabor estimated that TAMBA now annually assesses and maintains a third of the Tahoe Basin's roughly 350 miles of trails.
As an independent group with Forest Service certified trail crew leaders, TAMBA can conduct those trail surveys, assess needs and manage trail work on their own, with minimal Forest Service effort.
"It's a really great experience to work with those guys," Gabor said. "We would be struggling to maintain (trails) with our fixed budget. I think trail maintenance would be average without their experience (and volunteers)."
Seeing his group regain some of the strength it had in the 1990s, Bell said, "It's phenomenal. It's really grown. They've got some leaders in there that are really energetic and putting in the work."
He added that the Forest Service's more welcoming approach to mountain biking also plays a key role.
"It was almost unheard of at the time," he said of the early days of TAMBA.
Among other recent projects, the group was a lead force behind the creation of the new Bijou Bike Park, which will open Saturday, Sept. 19. The park is expected to be another big step toward promoting biking in the area. TAMBA also advocated for the addition of a lift-served bike park at Heavenly Ski Resort. Work on trails there are expected in the near future.
"The current state (of TAMBA and Tahoe biking) is well beyond what any of us thought it would be," sports photographer and avid biker Dave Clock of South Lake Tahoe said. "To see a world-class bike park put in, I never thought I'd see that."
More information on TAMBA is available at http://www.tamba.org.
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