West Coast Trail Planning and Design

IMBA Trail Solutions planners, designers, project managers and community engagement specialists travel the country each calendar year, creating the next generation of trail development. The mileage and elevation gains they put on their hiking boots do not match the passion of each of these professionals to bring more human-powered recreation opportunities to communities.

By midsummer, their travels slow down and the work most never see begins: writing plans, making appeals, defending communities, navigating ecosystems of endangered species…the list goes on. We were curious about some of the team’s most notable field experiences so far in 2022, so we asked, and they replied:

Leah Mancabell & Shane Wilson

Q: Tell us about yourself and how long you have been part of the IMBA Trail Solutions team.

HORRIBLE: My professional elevator pitch might read: “landscape architect with a background in ecological restoration.” But I prefer to call myself a map nerd and an ardent member of the community! My world revolves around playing with my friends in beautiful places. Naturally, I have made it my mission to create more opportunities to achieve this by protecting natural resources and people’s access to them. I’ve been with IMBA Trail Solutions for 2 years, designing rad places for people on bikes.

SHANE: I started with IMBA Trail Solutions in 2010 as a trail builder in Sandy Ridge, OR just an hour from Portland. Building these flowing bike-optimized trails in a humid, almost rainforest-like environment gave me an experience that took me around the world over the next few years: from creating destination trails in Switzerland and in Norway training local teams in Mexico on how to plan, design, and build trails for their communities and visitors. It’s been a whirlwind over the past 13 years to bring trails to trail enthusiasts.

Leah watches the plans alongside Trina Ortega at the Coal Basin Ranch, CO.
Shane and Joey Klein of IMBA Trail Solutions in Pagosa Springs, CO.
Q: Where has 2022 taken you so far?

HORRIBLE:

So far this year, I have had the privilege of working with communities in:

  • Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Jonesboro, Arkansas
  • Cedar City, UT
  • Chillicothe, Ohio
  • Aspen, Colorado
  • Redstone, Colorado
  • Jonesboro, Arkansas (Again
  • Pagosa Springs, Colorado
  • Cuchara, Colorado

SHANE:

I don’t need to travel for work as much as I used to, but some of the highlights this year were:

  • Hot springs, AR
  • Jonesboro, AR
  • Rogue River, OR
  • Cedar City, UT
  • Beaver, UT
  • Heber City, UT
  • Abundant, UT
  • Pagosa Springs, CO
  • Chillicothe, Ohio
  • Knoxville, TN
Working with IMBA Trail Solutions colleague Tim Halbakken in Cuchara, CO.
Shane after a ride in Jonesboro, AR.
Q: What do you expect when you go to a new project site?

HORRIBLE: Do you remember the excitement of showing a visitor around your bedroom when you were a kid? When you report your favorite toy or piece of art, what you were really saying is; “It’s ME, it’s who I am!”. Now imagine that on a larger scale and with fewer stuffed animals. It’s the same experience as getting to know these places thanks to the people who invest so much in them.

SHANE: First class improvements! (jk) I’m a lover of good terrain, and it’s especially exciting to find unique terrain features in places you wouldn’t expect. Navigating through thick brush and discovering a system of rocky ledges is like unwrapping a present. It can completely change the flavor and appeal of a trail and it never gets old.

Roadside views in Pagosa Springs, CO.
Joey, Shane, and Leah meet with the USFS in Pagosa Springs, CO.
Q: What is one thing that communities should be aware of before starting to develop high quality trails?

HORRIBLE: If you and your community are just getting started, be prepared for more questions than answers. Asking the right questions builds understanding between all parties. Questions, when properly phrased, help trigger deep thinking and are helpful in exposing constraints/opportunities that lurk below the surface. More importantly, asking questions is a quick way to build critical partnerships and cooperation with stakeholders. Good questions can help build rapport and trust.

SHANE: Develop your ability! Organizational capacity. Ability to plan. Ability to build. Ability to activate. Ability to maintain. Most places only manage 1 or 2 of these things.

Departure point in Chillicothe, OH.
Trailhead Kiosk in Pagosa Springs, CO.
Q: Tell us about the difficult situations you encountered this year.

HORRIBLE: Trails create space to interact with your community. All members of your community! Pushing partners to look beyond traditionally exclusive metrics to realize a system that speaks to all potential users has been a challenge. It was also a privilege to see partners trusting and engaging in the process, seeing for themselves how valuable consideration for all users is.

Leah works with Luke DeMuth and Trina Ortega at Coal Basin Ranch, CO.
Q: What bike-optimized trail experiences and facilities are communities asking for in 2022?

HORRIBLE: Generally speaking, communities are looking for purpose-built elements and intentionally curated experiences. Communities are ready to make investing in these opportunities a priority, and with that comes a higher level of planning and design.

SHANE: Longer journeys. Steeper trails. More rocks. Efficient climbs. Trails that can be hiked from home or town (people are tired of driving to the trailhead). “NICA” competition venues and training tracks.

Meeting community in Chillicothe, OH.
Q: Describe your favorite field experience of the year.

HORRIBLE: My favorite field experience this year was in Jonesboro, Arkansas. While inventorying other programming items in a public park, my colleague Shane and I were taking a picture of the crosswalk signage (glamorous I know) when a man in a double truck and cut off shirt pulled up and rolled down her window. Seriously, he asked if we were treasure hunting and if he could help us find something. My colleague jokingly claimed that the last thing on our treasure hunt list was to find someone over 6ft 2in and give them a hug. Without stopping, this man got out of his truck and hugged Shane like an old friend. After a good laugh between all of us, we clarified what we were doing and finally heard how much this man loves Jonesboro and this park in particular. It’s so corny, but once you take this work apart, it’s all about the people and the community.

SHANE: I’ve had a few opportunities this year to hike the trails on BLM land near Cedar City, Utah, alongside IMBA donors, other trail pros, NICA coaches, and land managers from an alphabet soup of d agencies. It was so rewarding to hear their praise, learn from their criticism, and talk about how to set up trails like the ones in Cedar City where they live.

Leah takes to the air in Jonesboro, AR.
Shane at the top of the Iron Range trail system in Cedar City, UT with members of IMBA’s Singletrack Society.

About Ethel Partin

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