Emmy Andrews is the Executive Director of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, also known as COTA. The group’s mission is to “develop, protect, and enhance the Central Oregon mountain bike experience through trail stewardship, advocacy, collaboration, and education.”
- Tell us a bit about COTA. What’s the organization’s mission and how large is your membership?
- When and why did COTA get its start?
- How long have you been with COTA, and how did you get involved?
- How is COTA organized?
- How many miles of singletrack does your group support?
- What are some of the most popular trails COTA helps support?
- Is there currently a good mix of trails in Bend for riders of all skill levels?
- Who are the land management agencies COTA works with?
- Do you see a lot of riders coming from out of town to ride in Bend, and some of the other areas COTA supports? What’s the best time of year to ride in Central Oregon?
- Tell us about the mountain bike community in Bend. Are there standing group rides, or businesses that are particularly MTB-friendly?
- Are there some under the radar trails that visitors might want to consider riding?
- Is there growing demand for e-bike trail access in Central Oregon?
- Do you have any new MTB trails in the planning stage, or currently under construction?
- How is COTA funded?
- What’s the biggest constraint or challenge that COTA faces in carrying out and growing the mission?
- What’s next for COTA?
Learn more and support the Central Oregon Trail Alliance at cotamtb.com.
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Hey everybody, welcome to the Singletracks podcast. My name is Jeff and today my guest is Emmy Andrews. Emmy is the Executive Director of the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, also known as coda. The group’s mission is to develop, protect and enhance the Central Oregon mountain bike experience through trail stewardship, advocacy, collaboration and education. Thanks for joining us, Emmy.
Thanks. Great to be here.
So tell us a bit about COTA, what’s the organization’s mission and how many members you have?
Thanks. Well, yeah, you set me up pretty well, you said the mission, but I’ll say it again. Coda’s mission is to develop, protect and enhance the Central Oregon mountain bike experience through trail stewardship, advocacy, collaboration and education. I’ve, we’re a nonprofit, and luckily, we’re a nonprofit that has a good mission statement. And so we basically, you know, our mission kind of sets up these four pillars of trail stewardship, which, which is the biggest one, what we do at the core is build and maintain trails, and bike parks like skills areas. And then you know, the universe that is a round that is really the other three pillars advocacy, collaboration and education. So there’s, there’s a lot of advocacy to be done to land managers, and that sort of thing, a lot of tables to sit at is kind of how I like to say it for collaboration to you know, all the other stakeholders and different groups to interface with them. And then ongoing education of new riders and just, you know, keeping responsible writing and educating about the lands on which we’re recreating. And so COTA takes on all that, as well. We do. One of our main funding streams is memberships. So we have about 2000 members, and they pay a relatively small fee to like help support the trails. And yeah, but we know there’s more riders out there. So.
Right, for sure. So I noticed in your mission statement, you’re explicitly include the word mountain bike, but the name of the group COTA doesn’t reference bikes, Is that intentional or strategic? For some reason?
Yeah, that’s, that’s a great question. It’s part of the evolution of COTA. You know, back in the day, we had a mission statement that was more just like about trails. And then in around 2016, our board kind of said, What does this mean to us? And, you know, if there was a trail that didn’t allow mountain bikes, would we work on it? Would we be the group that maintains it? And we decided, no, that would be outside of our sort of bandwidth and capacity and where we define ourselves, so, so we definitely welcome foot traffic is welcome on all of the trails that we maintain, and equestrians are welcome on a number of those trails as well. But we don’t get we are not the group that does things like taking care of the wilderness trails, there’s a different group locally that does that.
Gotcha. That makes sense. Yeah. I mean, we’re seeing a lot of groups around the country, sort of, some of them are rebranding, some of them are the new groups, and they are trying to pick names that are like more inclusive, I guess. And I didn’t know if that was like, part of, you know, if you’re able to get more grants and open more doors, because you can say, look, yes, we work on trails, like we’re, you know, part of the community, is that play into it? Or do you still work with other user groups as Coda or are they sort of separate? While we’re really I
don’t know if this is an Oregon thing, or what but we are, there’s a very, very collaborative environment here between different stakeholders. So and there are a number of sort of coalition’s or collaboratives, where those groups pretty formally get together and discuss common issues. So like, we have the Deschutes trails coalition here we have the OTA code, girls coalition, and you know, that’s a place where everyone from like, grazing permittees, to the logging industry, to the Hunters Association, to the equestrian groups, like we all get together and discuss issues relevant to trails in the forest. And it’s, it’s, you know, it’s taken some time to like, build those coalitions and build trust, but it’s working quite well. It’s really great.
Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, also, I noticed COTA is organized with chapters. So you’re, you’re a fairly large organization, or is it because it’s geographically large is what’s the thinking behind sort of having chapters within COTA
that’s another thing that has maybe been around just for a long time and it was was a decision of how best to allocate our boards capacity like back in the day but but has become like a geographic thing. So So six of the people on our board or their titles are actually chapter representatives, and they’re elected to those positions separately, or like specifically and then they basically run the operation Have their chapters. And as we get bigger, and as more trails come online, it’s actually turned out to be a really good model. Because then there’s like, a sense of locality. And those communities, some of which are, like many of which are smaller communities around Central Oregon, are driving their own trail future, right. So rather than a larger city, like Ben saying, Oh, we want this trail in a smaller community, that community is telling, you know, sort of the coda mothership. Here’s the kinds of trails that we want in our community. Right?
Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, and you see it. I know, you know, I’m a member of mountain bike Atlanta, here in Atlanta, Georgia. And, yeah, I mean, we’re pretty geographically specific to Atlanta. But at one time, even our group was organized that way, where like, different neighborhoods had kind of their own, you know, board member or what have you. And yeah, because a lot of these issues are more localized, and you want to be sort of as close to the community as you can be. So tell us when and why COTA got its start. What was the big moment when mountain bikers realized they needed to be organized?
Yes. So it was a long time ago. In in 90 around 1992. Oh, wow. In the in the late Yeah. So actually, code is 30 years old this year, this is our 30th anniversary. Yeah, having a 501 C three, we’re pretty psyched to be to have that longevity. So there was a group of folks that were some of the land here is relatively the, the understory is very open, there’s not a lot of vegetation, we’re in high desert. So there’s, there’s, it’s pretty easy to kind of ride cross country. And so there were a number of folks that were just getting out on their bikes, and going out into the National Forest and just riding, you know, deer trails, and forest roads and, and kind of started creating these trails. And then, through some different relationships, the Forest Service was like, hey, you know, you need to get organized and like advocate for these trails that we need to get these trails on the map in a systematic way. And like, make sure they’re not going through sensitive habitat and this kind of thing. And so So COTA was born to basically to basically have that relationship with the land manager.
So how long have you been with CODA and how’d you get involved?
I joined Kodos board of directors in 2016, they were just sending out emails saying run for the board of directors, and I really had no knowledge about trail work or anything, I just was at a point in my life where I was like, this could be fun. So I ran for the board I got on the board, and then just kind of, you know, came up through the ranks. And then when we were having conversations around 2020, of like, we should hire staff up because we were all volunteer until then. And we were just we were like, we can not do all the things that we are called upon to do in an all volunteer capacity anymore. So we decision to hire an executive director and went through a long process and did make it to the top and get chosen. So the rest is history, discarded his career and said Trails is my new career.
Was there like any overlap? Like did you have experience that like, made you well suited to doing this? Because yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s a nonprofit, it’s a lot of stakeholders and things like I can imagine that some that takes some time to like, learn and to get good at.
Yeah, I mean, I think the the under appreciated skill for almost any job is actually ability to have good interpersonal relationships. So hopefully, I’m good at that. And I also in my previous job, I worked with a lot of federal government clients and did a lot of NEPA work at the National Environmental Policy Act, which for federal land managers, that’s the process that trails have to go through in order to be approved and like screened for environmental concerns. So I had a lot of knowledge of how the federal government works and how they go through that environmental screening process. So that that definitely in there just entire planning process of that has been pretty helpful to know from the other side.
Yeah, for sure. So I imagine there are always like new trail projects and things like that going on, where that NEPA knowledge and those sorts of things come into play. How many miles a single track does COTA currently support?
We currently steward about 500 miles of trail we’re going through? Yeah, we’re renewing our volunteer services agreement with the Forest Service and have identified a number of trails that sort of no volunteer group is taking care of. So we expect that number to go up to about 600 quickly. Yeah, and then we have Wow, 50, about 150 miles more in the planning pipeline that, you know, will take years to come to fruition, but we ultimately see ourselves sitting at, you know, 750 or more.
Oh, my goodness. I mean, that’s, that’s got to be one of the highest numbers I’ve heard for any trail group, but it’s hard to imagine how you can even keep track of that. There’s probably trails that nobody’s really been on for years, right? Or are people writing all these trails? And, and you have a pretty good handle of like, what’s out there?
Yeah, we do. And we, we have a pretty good handle on it, we definitely get out. And, I mean, it’s a very small number of people that were very hard, you know, in the final, especially on our soccer team, you know, that go and ride all the trails during the spring melt out and get all the downed trees cleared away. And then, you know, we just, we haven’t pretty systematized to sort of make sure that we at least somebody who knows about trail work rides every trail every year and kind of takes a look. We don’t get everything done that we’d ideally like to do. But we’re working on that.
Wow. Yeah, that is, that’s super impressive. So tell us about some of these trails that COTA helps support. What are some of the more popular ones, maybe ones that people from outside of Oregon have heard of?
Yeah, well, the Phils area network is definitely one of the most well known ones with Phil’s Trailhead is this is right at the edge of town and goes out to a network of like mostly green and blue trails that are really, really popular really, really friendly for beginner riders, families who want to get out. So that’s a great network that’s really well known. And then what we sort of dubbed the win Noga network is kind of our more blue two somewhat black trail system where you have more your popular sort of like, rock and jump flow trails, we got, like Tyler’s tiddlywinks, funner all of those names are kind of in there. And in that system, there’s a new trail called Royal Flush that’s just about a mile long so far, but it’s you know, it’s one of our biggest, like, biggest jobs biggest berms kind of trails in our system and it’s new as of 2021. So that’s a good addition to that system. And then I mean, one thing about our trail network is like it’s highly interconnected so you can put together you know, 100 mile ride on single track if that’s your jam and just kind of go all over without you know, having to get out on big sections of pavement or anything like that.
Yeah, yeah, it is that allow for bikepacking like because you do multi days are there like campgrounds or things kind of out there in the forest that that people make use of?
Yeah, there there are a few campgrounds but I’d say most you know, bikepackers would probably just go for dispersed camps. We actually have the Oregon Timber Trail, which is a long bikepacking route that goes through all of Oregon, south to north is runs through the area, there’s a bit of a one of the best routes for the Oregon Timber Trail would unfortunately be this trail the Met when where there’s still consider it’s really built as an equestrian trail, and there’s a considerable amount of equestrian traffic so it’s not officially routed on that trail, because we’re trying to reduce conflicts with the equestrian group. But there’s a lot of it does go through this area, and there’s a lot of great places to stop along the way and resupply and yeah, very fun.
Cool, cool. Well, yeah, I’ve definitely heard of Phil’s trails and I always wondered was their connection to like fills world is a different fill, right?
It’s definitely a different fill. Fill is getting on in years, but he’s like still around town and taking care of the trail. He and his family take care of the trail known as Mrazek. So he’s still a big presence in the writing community. And yeah, we have a lot of trails named after guys who, who were the original builders of those trails. So we have like bins and Marvins and cats and Tyler’s so that’s, you know, maybe in today’s world that that isn’t the best way to name all the trails, but
yeah, yeah. Interesting. So yeah, you mentioned that Phil’s trails. That area is a good spot for like, beginning writers for families. Are there? Is there a good mix of trails? It sounds like there isn’t been for kind of writers of all skill levels.
Yeah, it’s definitely it’s a good mix, but it’s definitely like, especially a really good place to get into writing or for people. I had a guy tell me once he’s like, people come to Ben to go fast and far, like, a lot of our trails are, you know, pretty fast and flowy and you can you Can lug big distances because we’re not like this trail goes straight up the side of a really steep mountain, you know, so whereas if you’re the kind of person who would go on a ride, you know, somewhere that’s really known to be very steep and technical, and you might go on like a 20 mile ride, you can easily knock out like a 40 mile ride here. So it’s it’s just, it’s fun in that way.
Yeah, yeah. So not a lot of technical stuff. I mean, is there a demand for that, that people in town are like, hey, we need some harder trails? Or are people pretty satisfied with the current mix of trails?
I think like anything that’s sort of, you know, a hot topic in mountain biking, there’s, there’s people that want more like easier trails, there’s people that want more harder trails, there’s, there’s, we hear it all. But
yes, we just want more trails, that’s
when we look at the inventory, you know, we do think and just where biking is going and you know, there’s so many more jumping and you know, doing those kinds of tricks is like so much more normalized in the community. And so we’re really looking at trying to provide more jump trails below trails, Tech is a little harder, because it’s sort of what the landscape allows in a bit more of a way. But you know, ways to provide more skill progression, we have a, we have an amazing resource here called the lair, which is a, just a little hillside that has become like a big jump Park and mat that you can follow the layer on Instagram, and you will see like 12 year old kids doing backflips every day, and it’s pretty fascinating. So that’s great. And then it’s not coded, doesn’t take care of it. But our local ski mountain also has a bike park that’s open in the summer that offers a lot of more hardware, technical and big, big features and that kind of thing. So that’s a good resource here as well.
Yeah, yeah. That’s great to hear. So who are some of the key land managers and agencies that Cotto works with? It sounds like the Forest Service? Is one of them, or is it is it BLM that has the land outside of town?
The majority of the trails throughout our chapters are is the Forest Service, we have two different forests that we work on the Deschutes National Forest and then the Otago National Forest. So we have the Deschutes has three different districts within it. And then the otisco is is just one district. So we work with all those two forests and the three districts within the one and then we do have our below and our local BLM is just one district as well. And we have several different riding areas that are on BLM. And then we have a couple of different riding areas that are on like city and county and some of our skills areas as well are on city and county. So and we have a little bit of state park land. So we’re kind of working with all the all up and down the land manager spectrum, which is good.
Yeah. Wow. That’s definitely a lot to keep track of. But it also, I mean, that’s makes sense why Ben is able to have this tremendous resource because it sounds like you’re kind of surrounded by a lot of like, federal lands is that is a good way to put it.
Yeah, there’s a lot a lot of public land around here, which is just just amazing resource. You know, it’s just wonderful to be able to get out on those public lands and do all the different kinds of recreation. I mean, most mountain bikers or you know, skiers in the winter, maybe casual runners, climbers, you know, and all the all the fact that public land provides for all of that.
Yeah, definitely. Well, so bend is actually I mean, bend is a good size city on its own. But do you see a lot of riders coming from out of town to ride in Bend? Is it is it like a tourism spot? Or is it more of a like, you just have a lot of local people who ride there. What’s kind of the mix of riders that you see in Bend and some of the areas you support?
Definitely a lot of visitors out of towners, probably a lot of those, you know, coming from driving distances, other places in Oregon, Washington and California. But I was playing around on trail forks and they have a little page where you can look at stats just based on the ride logs of the people that are using their platform. And it was showing like two thirds out of towners and 1/3. Local. So how I mean if they just use cell phones, like I have the same cell phone number I’ve had most of my life so it would probably pick me out of Towner. So I don’t know exactly how that those dads work. But definitely there’s a big out of Towner population and it has really changed the character well maybe not change the character of town because people have always been coming to Ben for the ski mountain bachelor but we really see this year round tourism and just you drive around town during the summer months and it’s just cars with bike racks and bikes on the back of them just everywhere. So,
yeah, I mean, does that make it tough as nonprofit as a group, this supporting trails that you’re building and maintaining these trails that a lot of people are using, but you don’t necessarily have like the volunteer base and the financial stuff. I mean, tourism is great for people who own hotels or, you know, restaurants or things like that. But as a trail group, like, is that challenging for you to have such a large contingent of riders from out of town?
I mean, I think it creates some opportunities as well, because we’ve definitely seen the transient room tax that is collected locally from from those tours, we’ve seen some of the community leaders work to figure out ways to get some of that money back into recreation, infrastructure and maintenance, you know, recognizing that there’s oil here that needs to go on. So that’s pretty new. But But I think part of, you know, back to when we were talking about how stake holders have get together here pretty regularly and talk about these issues, we are seeing mechanisms come online to kind of create that feedback loop. It’d be great. We as an organization would like to figure out more how to message to tourists chi like, Hey, if you right here, like, throw us a few bucks, right for your you know, you’ll go out to dinner, you’d pay for that you’re riding the trails, maybe give a little donation, but but in absence of that, there are some other mechanisms that, you know, help us with some funding with that, just like grant programs and whatnot. So that’s good.
Yeah, I mean, that that seems to be kind of a common issue. And it’s, it’s good that you’re sort of talking about how do you take those tourism revenues and sort of put it back in because a lot of the reason people are coming is because of the trails, that CODA and other folks are, are helping to build and maintain. And so yeah, you got to keep that, that resource up and keep improving it so that people will keep coming.
Yeah. And it’s funny, because it will, it looks crazy, when you drive up to one of our trailheads I mean, it looks like such a scene, there’s 3040 50 100 cars there, you know, but you get out on the trails, and it’s still pretty, you won’t see anyone for 2030 minutes and, and people and depending on where you are, you could go much, much longer without seeing anyone. And like, and when you do see people I think for the most part, there’s always exceptions, but Ben is really well known for just people being really nice on the trails, I was my brother was visiting, and we, you know, stopped at like an intersection and talked with these other writers for a little bit. And then as we’re leaving, he’s like, did you know that guy? And I’m like, No, I just, you know, talk to him. Like, he’s my friend. And that’s a really good, you know, that’s an experience I hope visitors have when they come here, right? It’s like just people being super nice out on the trails, and then just creating that culture of like, that’s how you treat people on the trails. So,
yeah, yeah. Well, that leads sort of into my next question about the mountain bike community and beyond, like, what, what is a way for people who are maybe from out of town, they could connect with that and kind of experience that? I mean, it sounds like just ride the trails and say hi to somebody and you know, you’re you’re one of the crew, but are there? Are there like standing group rides? Are there businesses that are particularly mountain bike friendly?
We have a number of bike shops, I can’t even count them all. I don’t know they’re in the double digits, right. And like all of those bike shops, whoa, super friendly and like great places to get information. And you know, get hooked up with rental bikes or whatever you need. So definitely stopping in a bike shop is a really good thing to do. If you need sort of information, I honestly I had to google like group rides and bend because I don’t really want the group ride scene is but it does look like there’s a number of folks that do that. Especially there’s there’s often a lot of like women’s rides. Women just tend to get together and want community and like create spaces for that, which is great. And mountain biking. What was the other thing I was gonna say about that? Oh, cog wild and maybe there’s another group now provides shuttles they have like a really good daily shuttle schedule. So that’s, that’s a cool way to you know, maybe take some of the uphill out of your ride can be what you need if you’re on vacation and you’re like riding day after day. So that’s a good and they’re a great resource to the people are all really friendly and tell you all about stuff in town and give you ride suggestions and that sort of thing. But But yeah, it’s it’s Yeah, I think those are the major ones I would point out.
Yeah. What about I’m sure there’s there’s lots of good beer being in Oregon, are there any breweries that are like trail adjacent, or like ones where mountain bikers tend to hang out?
That’s a good good. I mean, the classic ben de right, which I still enjoy every time I do it, even though I’ve lived here like 15 years is going for a ride and then going to a brewery and having dinner and having some beers. And I mean, you’ll find mountain bikers at every brewery there is there’s a few. There aren’t really any that are like you come right off the trail, and you’re at the brewery, but there’s a number that are kind of on the west side. And we’ve had a huge growth in like food cart pods as well, but have a little beer garden and food carts. And in the summer, those are kind of my favorite hangouts is like because I’m very food focused, really. So.
Yeah, that’s, that’s a great part of mountain biking. That’s like the other half the other side of the coin, you know, you ride and then you eat slash drink. So yeah, that sounds really awesome.
write off all those calories, and then put them right back on. That’s yeah,
yeah, for sure. So what are you? I mean, you mentioned 500 miles of trails, which still I’m trying to wrap my head around that. So what are some are like the under the radar trails that people might want to consider writing? Like, what are some hidden gems, maybe some that are like harder to get to? or for whatever reason, people just don’t write them that often. Are there any that you would recommend?
Oh, my gosh, yes, I’ve got kind of a list. So settling for this. So Madras, which is like north of Bend about 45 minutes. So the town of Madras has a system called the East hills, but they have just gone bananas up there, where it’s on city land. And so they’ve had a little more freedom to do things like wood structures, they welcome e bikes, because it’s not federal land, it’s city land. So you ride your eBike out there. So there’s just, it’s got some cross country, it’s got a lot of sort of like features and skills areas, there’s a little drop zone, there’s a good jump trail. So that’s a really fun one. And if you’re coming from like the Portland area that’s a bit closer than coming all the way to bend. So that’s a really good one that is an up and comer for sure. And then I really liked the Redlands, which is an area it’s on county, land east of Redmond, and it’s just, it just naturally has all these little punchy, like Rocky up and overs and it also welcomes e bikes, although honestly, I would be terrified to ride an E bike over some of those like rock features. But but it’s it’s a small system, it’s probably only like 10 miles of trail. But the rock features are really not something that you see on other trails we have. So that’s a fun area to go and practice. And then in Prineville, which is east of bend, there’s a really new, it’s just one drill called quadruple bypass. And it’s like an out and back. And it’s behind these data centers. And it’s near the dump. And it’s like, kind of weird, but it’s called the back 66 Because all the trails there are part of the 66 trail system and but it’s on the rim of this canyon that overlooks Prineville, and the surrounding area, so it’s really scenic. And then there are a ton of wood features like lower kind of more like skinnies where you’re kind of technically writing, you know, navigating the turns of the skinny and so that one’s a really fun one that almost nobody knows about whenever we put a picture of it on like our social media or some people like where’s this. And then in the winter, we have a network of fat bike trails, it’s currently it’s only nine miles of fat bike trails, but we’ve been working so hard with the land managers to try to increase the mileage and there have been a series of complications that have not yet allowed us to do that. But we’re really we have a great team that is committed to grooming those trails and we’ve actually started grooming some of them wider so that adaptive bikes and ride have opportunities to ride those trails in the winter as well. So that’s a fun thing to like, have pretty much year round riding.
Yeah, that’s super cool. I mean, does it get do you get a lot of snow in town in Bend where like, all or most of the trails are covered? Or are there certain trails that you can ride pretty much year round? Even without a fat bike?
Yeah, in the in the deep winter like January February, March, there’s not a ton of trails that are not under snow. So that’s really one of the main ones and then you can also there’s a ton of their snowmobile clubs that plow you know, larger like road sized corridors but you can ride your fat bike on those as well so you can get up into some interesting areas on those snowmobile routes but but yeah, kind of kind of that deep winter it’s time to go skiing
Yeah, Sounds like you’re okay with that. Yeah,
yeah, I like that. But and that said, you know, the Madras system, some of the systems in Prineville, you know, those depending on the snow year, those may be riding almost all year, but the Ben trails are, are pretty close down for the main winter months.
Interesting. Yeah. Because I mean, I haven’t visited them and, but from all the pictures and things, I mean, obviously, the pictures I’m seeing are from the summer and it just looks, it looks sort of dry and dusty, and like, you know, beautiful forests and things like sort of reminds me of Colorado just from looking at it. And so yeah, I’m personally surprised that you get that much snow the you can actually ride some of the trails in the winter.
Yeah, it’s interesting. We just went to Colorado on a trip. And it was very funny because like our mountains, our highest mountain is right at about 10,000 feet. And yet we have more snow on our higher mountains right now than Colorado has on its fourteeners. And I was like, what? I don’t really know what that is.
Yeah. Oh, interesting. Well, yeah. So you mentioned a couple of those spots on city and county land where there are trails that E bikes are allowed. So I’m curious to know, like, what, what’s the conversation about E bikes like for COTA? Is there a growing demand for E bike trail access, or people pretty much happy with with what you’ve got right now?
Well, that’s a question, you know, that we wonder a lot about, because, you know, we definitely hear from a lot of E bikers who want more trail access, I mean, they definitely have access to we have 1000s of miles of forest roads. And then, you know, we do have some systems of trails that allow e bikes, but but definitely there is a steady stream of folks, you know, wanting greater access, who we don’t really hear from because it’s the way the condition is now is the folks that might be nervous about E bikes, because, you know, they don’t call us and say, Hey, we like it how it isn’t, you know, because there’s no real reason for them to do that.
They just posted anonymously online. And, yeah, learn the Facebook comments, because yeah, we definitely see that.
Right. So it’s hard to it’s hard to judge how many people are going to be concerned, you know, if, if the situation does change, you know, so that, that’s kind of ongoing, just think, for me to think about, like, how would we measure that. So we kind of know what we’re up against. I mean, it’s definitely been a journey, just thinking about E bikes. And I think, as a lot of organizations, you know, the way they felt three years ago or five years ago, about E bikes is very different now, with them coming online and getting normalized. And, you know, I’ve had a few opportunities to ride e bikes on the trail systems that do allow them and you know, my own like, personal journey has kind of been like, Oh, hey, it’s just me on an E bike, I’m still gonna heal, I’m still gonna be nice,
didn’t turn you into like a really mean, trail user. That’s, that’s what I’ve heard.
So and, you know, it’s also I’ve also written in mixed groups, like some people are on E bikes, and some people are riding regular bikes. And that is fascinating. And I am not, you know, like a race quality rider. And we I rode in a group where I was on a regular bike, and some other folks are on E bikes. And I, I couldn’t quite keep up, but I was not far behind. Right. So yeah, yeah. My own personal journey has been understanding, you know, that when we talk about like, top speeds of E bikes, that doesn’t necessarily mean like everyone’s going 20 miles an hour all the time. Right. Right. So that is one thing. And then, you know, coda is a lot of voices, right? So I wouldn’t say that Coda right now has like, one position, because there are a lot of voices, a lot of people are at different places with their own thoughts about E bikes. But, you know, to me, at the end of the day, e bikes are a user group, just like equestrians or user group hunters or user group. And like, what, you know, if they feel they’re looking for a particular recreational opportunity, and they’re not being provided that then you know, that’s a question that land managers have to look at just the way they would any user group, right. So no, I mean, not to go like deep into the policy, which if we went too deep into it, I would get lost too. But both BLM and Forest Service have now put out they’ve they’ve made national policies that say local land managers can go through their environmental process and decide to open non motorized trails. So that’s something we’ve definitely seen an uptick since that forest service policy came out in the our local forest service coming to us and saying like, Hey, you We want to grapple with this, you know, we’re the federal government, we’re slow, it’s not going to happen overnight. But like, you know, in all summer, we’re going to be dealing with fires and not have capacity, but like, we want to talk to you guys, we want to figure out ways to, you know, gauge where the community is at and like, figure out some sort of path forward. So he’s gonna see a lot more stakeholders kind of engaging on this topic. And you know, what will actually happen in terms of trails changing designations is Israeli air, I think right now, but, but it’s good to see the land managers really wanting to engage with groups like COTA on having those conversations and, you know, doing doing what we need to do.
Right. Yeah, I mean, ultimately, like you say, it’s their decision. And the Forest Service is a huge entity in the BLM as well. And so I think the best that you can do sounds like is kind of advise and sort of help them work through that. But ultimately, it’s, it’s up to them, whether that happens or not, and not, not coda.
Yeah, but not to, like, totally pass the responsibility there. You know, I think our role is to kind of connect them with different users with all kinds of feelings on the subject, right, so that they can hear all sides of the story. And we can, you know, analyze a trail network and kind of say, you know, where, because there’s places in the trail network already, where there’s high conflict between, you know, either people on foot, and equestrians and bikes or even like, uphill, downhill bike traffic, and, you know, so maybe some of those places, like, you know, maybe we want to just not add another thing to the mix here. And then there’s other places where it’s like, okay, there’s some one way trails, there’s not as much density like, maybe this would make sense. So I think, you know, just the way e bikes are user group that wants things like folks that are uncomfortable with the bikes or user group that wants things and so not to live in a world where everyone can be happy, but like, maybe we can accommodate both of those groups. I don’t know.
Yeah, definitely TBD, and a lot of a lot more work to be done. And like you said, it’s not going to happen overnight. But it is good that people were having these conversations now and trying to figure out the best way, so that everybody’s happy in the end, which that’s kind of the goal. So tell us, you mentioned, what, 150 miles of trails that are in various stages of planning that that COTA is involved in what are some of the bigger projects, so the ones that are like closer to being ready to build and didn’t open to bikes?
Yes. Okay. I’ll tell you. So there’s a couple. Well, I’ll tell you also, some of the ones that we have under construction now, because those are like, those are great, because those are like literally coming online soon. But yeah, in the planning stage, that it’s always awkward, right, because something can always get derailed. And we have had one of our planning projects that has been pretty drilled that I would love to talk about a little bit, but two that are seeming not super controversial, or having a lot of, you know, sensitive resources like wildlife, is we have a sledding hill at one of our snow parks. That’s also like a good parking area in the summer that would Noga that we’re looking at putting some sort of short sessionable downhill trails on that, that the planning process is not totally finished. So anything could still happen. But it’s looking really good because they did do some environmental analysis on that area like previously, and it it looks good for trails. So we’re hoping to see that come online, and that’ll be great, because we have a lot of popular longer trails there. And then there’s a little skills area in the parking lot. So between those like sessionable downhill focus trails and the skills area and the longer sort of forest trails that emanate out of there will no go is just really set up to become a real mountain bike hub. And you can camp in the parking lot there and your RV or so that’s going to in a few years, I mean, it’ll take a few years to get that online, but that’s going to be a very cool area. And there’s another one a connector trail that right now it’s just a place in the system where you have to ride a long section of road connecting the swampy snowpark to the Dutchman snowpark you’re gonna get a trail along that which will be two ways which are cool. We’ll also be good because we have a trail called flag line that is closed a good portion of the year for elk calving and it kind of create creates sort of a hole in the system when you’re trying to get back to town from those higher country trails and this trail will provide an alternate route when flag line is closed. So we’re really looking forward to that. You know, another trail that is going to be really fun and have more Have that higher country feel to it? So those are two of the ones that are in planning that looking pretty good for actually happening. Yeah. And the one that got sorted that wind sort of sideways talking about is is this area called lemon Gulch. So if you Google lemon Gulch, you will be, you will find a number of articles, kind of basically, it was a trail system that was proposed east of Prineville. And a small group of people became very concerned that this trail system was you know, going to ruin their way of life and, you know, completely changed the town in a way that they were not desiring. And
yeah, I remember reading about this. Yeah, okay. Yeah. So
this is not Yeah, I would definitely encourage folks to look this up if you’re at all interested in mountain bike advocacy, because because the story is very interesting, and it completely caught caught off guard because the trail system was proposed through one of these coalition’s the Otago trails collaborative. And, you know, this was a group of folks that had been meeting for years and had come up with a master plan that included you know, new hiking trails, new equestrian trails and new bike trails in the Otago National Forest, because those don’t have a ton of trail inventory. And there were various user conflicts that they wanted to address by making some new trails and kind of separating users. And so there was a very robust process to make this master plan. And it seemed like everyone was on board and aware, there had been some public meetings at the library to kind of let the public know that this was going on and have the public weigh in locations. And then it all just went sideways when this group, you know, decided that it was not to their liking.
And it wasn’t like a big group, either, right? I mean, this is like a very rural area, as I recall. And yeah, that it was just a few, but they were, they were very, very loud, and got a lot of attention for the project.
It seems to be a small but very vocal group. And, you know, like, a lot of these things, it really just seems to be, you know, maybe similar to the ebike issue, it seems to be based on just a lot of fear that the change that this would bring is going to be a lot greater than in actuality, it will be right. So, you know, it’s like, oh, this road that you drive on to get to it is going to become like, a five lane highway with 1000s of cars, you know, and it’s just like, that’s not going to be right. But But I get it, I Prineville is sort of a, you know, a small, tight knit more like cowboy community and they, and they’re just I really think it’s forces of change that are going on in Central Oregon in general, that definitely the population here is growing really fast, like housing is becoming very expensive. And I honestly think it’s those changes that the trail system is just something they can pin it on. And it’s almost feel sorry for them. Because Do they really think that if they could just stop this trail system, they could stop all the changes that are happening in Central Oregon? I mean, you know that, of course, it’s not,
it makes me wonder if if we’ve oversold, sort of how big of an impact mountain bike trails have on you know, things like tourism, right? Like, I can see that if you’re worried you’re gonna be Bentonville? Well, I don’t even know if Bentonville has a problem, either. I mean, I think they’re doing fine. They’re not overrun with people, you know, all of a sudden in their town, you know, maybe it’s more like Crested Butte or something where Yeah, I mean, over many years, the real estate values have been driven up. And it’s obviously super, you know, tough to, to get a meal in a restaurant, you know, in the summertime there, but like, Yeah, I wonder if we’ve oversold, like, how big of an impact mountain bike tourism is going to have versus the reality which is, you know, people are there for a few hours. They come on the weekend. Generally, yeah. Not not a lot of cars. I don’t know.
Yeah, I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. Because I mean, I, to me, trail systems. And you know, the reason certain areas are becoming you know, why bend is what it is, and Crested Butte and Moab and you name it is because there’s really good quality of life there. Right. And so I’m not really sure what, I don’t know if these folks are just looking for a different type of life, and they don’t feel there’s a place for that. But, you know, I mean, the otoko National Forest is nearly a billion acres. It’s like 850,000 acres. So a trail system on like 3000 Acres is, in my opinion, not too much to ask, I mean, their federal public lands are open to everyone. And there are a lot of mountain bikers in this area and a lot of mountain bikers locally in Prineville, there’s a really strong local culture or have, you know, bikers who are very tight knit group of folks, and it doesn’t seem like too much to ask. So in any case, the environmental, the public comment period for the environmental review will be this fall, we think so. Okay. And you know, anyone who is the citizen of the USA, it’s your federal public land, and you have a voice. And we would love for folks, when that comment period happens, we’re going to try to publicize it far and wide. And we would love people to take two minutes to just submit a letter, we’re going to have draft letters on our website to just say, hey, you know, this, this trail system is a good thing. And you should let it move forward. So that it’s very clear when these letters come in that the greater number of folks support this trail system and versus being opposed to it.
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. That’s a great reminder to about these, there’s a lot of opportunities like that, where we as mountain bikers can speak up and say that we’re in support of projects and things. And I feel like, we’re one of the better groups at that, honestly, like showing up to meetings, and we tend to be pretty vocal. But yeah, I would just encourage people for sure, when, when that opportunity arises to Yeah, take a couple minutes and, and write a letter and say, Yeah, I support this, you know, like you said, I’m a citizen, taxpaying citizen, and, you know, I want to enjoy the public lands that we have. And yeah, that’s something we can do as mountain bikers to contribute to that, and kind of show show where our interests are.
Yeah. And that’s just to like, break down the mechanics of how to be an advocate in that way is like, like a follow your local trail group on all their social media sign up for their newsletter, like, then you’ll get those action alerts from them, and then go to the web pages of your local land managers like the city, the county, the state, and the federal government’s the national forests, they will all have ways to sign up for their alerts. And they are required by law to have, you know, public notification of certain things. So you there lists to get notification when there’s a chance for you to submit a comment on, you know, whatever relevant public lands, things are going on in your self. So definitely make sure you’re on those lists.
Yeah, yeah, that’s great advice. Yeah. Awesome. So let’s talk about funding. How is Coda funded? You mentioned you’ve got about 2000 dues paying members, is our membership dues a big part? Or are there other funding sources that the coder relies on?
Yeah, well, so funding funding has been very interesting for us the past few years, because, of course, like I mentioned, in 2020, we were all volunteer, we had no staff. So our budget has just now we have three staff two years later, we have three staff. So our budget has basically doubled in the past three years. And so we’re, we’re still sorting out like how we sustainably fund that. So membership is probably about a third or a quarter of our budget. And then grants, you know, that we go after that are project specific are probably a quarter to a third and then major gifts from individuals who are giving, you know, five or more figure donations make up about probably about a third. And then you know, we’ll have some unusual things like we had a bequest in someone’s estate at one year. So we’ll have some things that kind of come in, in sort of a one off way like to fill in some of those gaps, but it is definitely funding is a struggle and I really think I’ve been thinking about it because you know, I’m I’m also sit on the board of the Oregon mountain biking Coalition, which is like a statewide coalition of groups like Coda where we all sort of talk about similar issues and, and then I am active in some other things, you know, kind of always looking at the broader landscape of trails funding, and I really think what has happened on a macro level is like, mountain bike mountain biking started as a sport, you know, not too long ago in the grand scheme of things and mountain bikers have spent all this time advocating for trails and now we’re seeing that kind of get over this hump where we have a lot of trails. And, you know, we have places Bentonville, Moab, Sedona, des and Bellingham, you know, you can name them where the economy and and the culture is largely centered around mountain biking. And the piece that we haven’t filled in is like now that we’ve created these real ride centers, how do we make sure that those areas are properly stewarded so that when you go, you know, the jumps aren’t all just blown out and the trees haven’t? been cut out. And I think that is the next piece in this evolution that like all of the trail groups kind of need to solve is like how to keep sustainable funding coming in to steward that resource. Because, you know, to mountain bikers to hikers, you’re like, I’m walking this trail in order to go to this waterfall or this viewpoint or whatever, for mountain biking, like, it’s the trail itself, you know, and how it flows and how it’s shaped. That’s what we’re therefore, you know, we’re we love the scenery and riding through different types of forest. But if the trail itself is not in good condition that really affects our experience. And so yeah, it’s an it’s a lot of ongoing maintenance, that is not sufficiently funded, not just a CODA, but across the board at this time. But I really hope to see that evolve, you know, in the next few years.
Yeah, I mean, funding maintenance is definitely not not sexy. That’s not like the first thing, especially, I mean, for individuals, you’re giving your money, you’re thinking, this is gonna go to build a new trail. But, you know, the thing like, can you you said, grants are a big part of, of the funding, or those those are typically going toward trail projects. Am I right? Or can you use some of those to fund just your, like, operating expenses, in terms of paying staff and that sort of thing, because it seems like that’s the last thing that that people want to fund, but it’s, it’s really the most necessary.
Yep. And that is, that’s another one of my like, macro, big picture, things that I try to message whenever I get the chance. And whenever I have a chance to talk to grant providers, you know, I try to send the message of like, I know, what you guys are looking for is like a project that you can say we built this kiosk, or we built this trail or whatever, but investing in people, you know, those things have a 1x return on investment, you built a kiosk, right, you did it. But like, if you invest in a person, a staff person, if you invest in training volunteers, you know, like that money has a two or 3x ROI, as those people learn skills, they have bandwidth to do a number of things, you know, and that can that can have a ripple effect out into the community, and is, is a less tangible resource than, say, a kiosk or trail, but isn’t much bigger impact, you know, so if grant providers are looking to take dollars and turn them into impact, in my opinion, that should be by investing in people and training and not so much, you know, and less thinking about just like, run of the mill trail projects, you know, yeah, so yeah, we’re, we’re, I’ve had the opportunity, I work into my grant applications, you know, the, the first few font cycles of maintenance and training. So it’ll be like, Alright, we’re gonna build this skills area, and we’re gonna train volunteers to take care of it. Because if we don’t, it’ll be perfect for a month, and then it’ll just get hammered. And it won’t be great anymore, right?
Yeah. And you’re telling the grant, Grant giver, like, we’re not going to come back to you, hopefully, for more money, because we need to fix up this trail. And, you know, meanwhile, you guys have your name on this trail, and it looks like junk after a few years. You know, we’re Yeah, you’re investing in us, like sustaining this and everything. I mean, that’s a great pitch, and I’m definitely sold.
Great, well, good.
Yeah. Well, so what is the biggest constraint or challenge that Coda faces in carrying out and growing the mission? kind of mentioned? Some? I mean, is it is it funding? Is it volunteers? Is it some combination of that?
Right now, it’s funding, we’re really blessed with like a very active community and really active volunteers, our volunteers logged almost 14,000 hours in 2021. And we’re on track to bust that ceiling and go even higher in 2022. So we have a lot of people showing up and it’s like, getting people assigned to different tasks, and like prioritizing, you know, getting all that organized is kind of an ongoing thing. But I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily like a hurdle that there’s no clear path to getting over. It’s just an ongoing thing of, you know, figuring out how to train and leverage volunteers. But yeah, the funding is really the piece as I described, that feels like how are we going to do this and so many clubs, so many organizations like code are figuring that out too. So if anyone’s listening, and you’d have figured that out, please call me.
Yeah, well, I mean, it’s interesting because, you know, I’ve spoken with a lot of different executive directors, a different trail groups and a lot of them are in the same boat where they’ve, you know, just hired full time staff for the first time Within the last like, three to five years, a lot of them same were like previously all volunteer. And yeah, I mean, it does sound like that a lot of groups like yours start to gain momentum when you have that when you have people who can focus on the the organization and the mission full time. And you haven’t said it explicitly, but I imagine that a lot of your time, and the rest of the staffs time is spent fundraising. So it’s like, you know, that’s, that’s just part of the job is you’re there to get more money so that you can do more things. And, you know, the idea is that that snowballs and yeah, it does seem to work.
Yeah, it does. It’s very much the macro trend, you know, in our in mountain biking right now. And I would definitely say that, you know, as my personal approach to it is, I hate thinking that there are clubs all over the states that are inventing the same wheel and going through all the same growing pains. And so you know, I am more than happy if I have developed a resource or some tip for success, I will share it with you freely, no strings attached. So I definitely have people hit me up every now and then of like, what do you do about this? Or do you have a job description for an executive director? Like, yes, I do. And I would be happy to share it with your club free of charge. So you know, I love to see that attitude among these groups, because we are all making the same transitions to having staff and having to do more assertive fundraising, and like, you know, we should help each other? I very much believe that. So
for sure, yeah. And you mentioned that state level organization for mountain bike groups. And again, yeah, that’s something we’ve seen and in other states, and it seems to be effective, a great way of sharing those sorts of best practices. And in some more like regionals specific issues and things that can be addressed at the state level versus like, you know, say, all the way up at the national level, like within the
Yep, and just simple things like our statewide organization, got a 20% discount for on tools from a particular provider. And then we were able to say to all the clubs, like, Hey, we’re going to do this big order, and they’re providing us discount because we’re doing a bigger order than the club’s could do alone. Like, who need you know, go on this website and pick out your tools. And we’ll get, you know, we’ll organize like getting them delivered and all this stuff. And so just, just even simple things like that have been so nice to work together on.
Yeah, that’s awesome. So tell us what’s next for COTA.
What’s next for COTA? Well, our 150 miles of trails, that takes up a lot of our time planning for those going out and flagging alignments and looking at Wildlife issues. And you know, all of that. So that is next. And then a big thing that we’re trying to do is grow our volunteer capacity and skills to take care of our flow trails. So you know, we’ve had, you know, a lot of volunteers kind of doing, you know, brushing and drain cleaning and that kind of thing, but we really want to create a more highly skilled group of volunteers who are like maintaining Jobson and berms, and, you know, really grow our capacity in that area, because those are the trail features that are just getting hammered and, and need a lot of love. So we’re really looking at better ways to, to do that.
Cool. Yeah, that seems like something that, that people would be really interested in learning how to do how to do it the right way. And yeah, like you said, it’s a very specialized skill and not something that that people just kind of automatically know how to do.
Yeah, right. It takes definitely like if you know, for folks that are just like, I’m gonna come out for one afternoon a year. That won’t be that but we do. We are lucky that we get volunteers who are just coming out very, very consistently. So I’m like, Alright, we’re training you to do this.
That’s awesome. Yeah, it’s fun. Cool. Well, me, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and tell us about CODA and the writing in Bend. And yeah, we definitely look forward to hearing about the ongoing trail projects and what you’re able to do there. Thanks for having me. It was a blast. Well, you can learn more about CODA and find out how you can support them as well on the website Coda mtv.com. And we’ll have a link to that in the description. So we’ve got this week. We’ll talk to you again next week.