With just over a year in official operation, Berks Trail Works is quickly making its mark on South Eastern Pennsylvania's mountain biking scene with progressive and sustainable trails. We talked to BTW's Treasurer, Stephan "Geronimo" Kincaid, about the organization and received a wealth of information from him with some input from President Chris Herbein, Vice President Logan Fox, Committees Director Austin Kratz, and Secretary Sandie Kincaid.
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Photo credit: Roman Turnbridge
Stan's: Can you tell us a little bit about how Berks Trail Works came together?
Berks Trail Works: Berks Trail Works (BTW) is a member-driven 501c3 non-profit that was created out of the need for our area mountain bike trail builders and maintainers to have the advocacy, support, and positive communication with land-managers so they can continue their decades of good work. Though the majority of us are mountain bikers we are unique in that our primary focus is on trail maintenance and trail building. April 1st 2021, not an April Fools joke, was when we officially became a non profit and in this short "official" tenure we have already eclipsed over 3000 trail work hours! This year alone we have already surpassed 1000 trail work hours! We are stoked!
We also are also very proud that our members are involved in everything we do. It's our members' money and they deserve a say, trail names, projects, who is on the Board, and etc. is collaborated with our membership. We have open elections annually and our by-laws are viewable to the public. We strive for transparency, dependability, and honesty. These are all important for membership and community trust. The Board talks daily, no joke, every side conversation and decision is done as a team.
Oh, and we are fully insured. This is a HUGE asset for our members as well as land managers/owners.
SNT: Which trail systems is Berks currently involved with and what sort of work is happening there?
BTW: We currently maintain six trail systems: Birdsboro Preserve/Watershed, Antietam Lake Park, French Creek, Robesonia, Blue Marsh (Lake Border Trail), as well as having BTW members collaborating successfully with Evansburg State Park and Spring Mountain (former Launch Bike Park) so I guess that is eight trail systems! I almost forgot the Horseshoe Trail, we are officially recognized as the primary trail maintainers for the Horseshoe Trail (HST) that goes through the Birdsboro Preserve. They liked one of our trails so much they reached out and asked if they could use it as a part of a planned re-route away from a gun club. BTW members even helped open up the new section of HST that connects it to French Creek.
I think Birdsboro is what we are currently most known for. The trails there are very diverse. The South Side, a.k.a. the "Iron Man" side has the technical XC style of trails. The North Side is more "trail" or "enduro" style. This is the side that has progressive features organically built into the trails.
We had a two phase signage project approved and funded by the Municipality. It was a monumental task because many of the trails there are so remote. Thankfully we have very committed members that are classic hard working people. The trails here get an annual trim each summer (shout out to the Twin Valley NICA team for coming out and assisting two weekends in a row) as well as consistent erosion management work. Erosion management is an ongoing constant, any trailbuilder would agree. Even the best laid trails need regular TLC.
Antietam Lake Park is a gem of a spot. The trails there are more technical and downhill focused. When we ride there we often refer to it as "lake laps." Which equals riding up the hill and back down on a variety of descents. You can also shuttle these trails.
We currently have a sweet project started with Berks County Parks and Recreation to build a true flow trail, with easy rolling features, as well as a new two mile section of fresh singletrack. Sticks and Stones Trail Building Company has the lead on the flow trail with BTW members assisting with the finish work. The singletrack will all be handcut trail, a tremendous task, and is slated to be officially open soon!
Both are much needed styles of trails in Berks County and close the gap between the more expert focused trails at Antietam and nearby Mt. Penn. The new singletrack will provide some diversity to the lower section of park so people can go for a ride/hike/run with some nice mileage without climbing to the top as often, or at all! This was all a part of the Berks County Parks and Recreation Master Plan and we are beyond hyped they asked us to tackle the project.
French Creek is primarily a maintenance program right now. There is a dedicated trail crew there that meets every Tuesday evening and BTW has committed to being there the third Tuesday of each month. French Creek is a very popular recreation trail system and we were shocked to learn that there has been very little to no official trail maintenance help from other organizations.
The few mountain bikers that were unofficially helping at French Creek turned out to be people we know and they are all now BTW members. We are amped to bring the right people together in a positive way so the trail work is as efficient as possible. Credit IS also due to the Owen J. Roberts NICA team, they have put in some good hours of trail work at French Creek, kudos to them!
The French Creek DCNR has been incredibly positive, open, and appreciative. The partnership we created here in the past year has been amazing! Since this collaboration the trails at French have been able to, albeit slowly, receive the much needed rehabilitation they need. There are some re-routes and a possible adoption of a new trail in the discussion phase. Trees fall here A LOT and we have a team of Sawyers that aid the trail crew and DCNR to keep the trails open.
Robesonia is an off-map trail system. Keeping this trail system off Trail Forks was at the request of the Water Authority there. Their goal is to keep the trail system there more "quiet" and "local." However, they recognized that the trails were in desperate need of rehabilitation! We have committed BTW members that live in that area and have done incredible work rehabilitating the old trail system as well as incorporating sustainable and well thought out connecting trails. The system here is best learned when riding with a local (which we'll happily play tour guide). We recently had a members only six pack enduro there, approved by the Municipality of course, and it was a blast!
Blue Marsh, like French Creek, is primarily a trail maintenance program. We have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to maintain 26 miles of the Lake Border Trail. Since the Army Corp of Engineers (ACoE) are the land manager they require all trail crews there to successfully complete their in-person powertool and/or chainsaw certification programs. We have BTW members that have done both and now we can go out and clear trails. The ACoE will even lend us trail maintenance tools if need be and we have a gate key to help us gain access to do the work. Last year we had a big push to clear the trails for the "Blues Cruise" 50km running race. It took well over 70 hours of trimming and 30+ trees were cleared. It was our first year with this MOU and the trail needed so much work! Trees there fall with the slightest wind!
Evansburg is a new partnership with BTW members working with their DCNR office to trim, clear and work on erosion control. Spring Mount has a very skilled and dedicated trail team. We essentially are here, if needed, to provide some additional resources to both these trail systems.
SNT: How does BTW find balance in building trails that are both sustainable and exciting for the riders?
BTW: Great question! All trails need maintenance. Increased traffic increases the need for maintenance. Many of the trails out here were built when there were only 15 riders in the entire area! That's obviously changed, we'll now see 50+ riders at Birdsboro during a single Saturday! The key to sustainable and exciting trails is intelligent and skilled water management and consistent upkeep. With that we have multiple trail work opportunities 12 months of the year. Trail work NEVER ends.
SNT: Projects like the upcoming flow trail at Antietam Lake Park require additional help from professional trail builders, in this case Sticks and Stones. How do you know when to get the pros involved, and where does the funding come from?
BTW: One of the owners of Sticks and Stones happens to be a Berks Trail Work member and a certified erosion and water management specialist! It was a no-brainer to have one of our members and his trail building company be given first dibs on the Antietam Lake flow trail. They are local riding buds with the skill and experience. We all ride together and know one another so well, we didn't even entertain anyone else and they didn't hesitate to tackle the project.
The start-up funding for Section 1 of the three sections of trail came from Berks Trail Works membership dollars. Sticks and Stones gave us a very fair start up price. We then put out a membership vote requesting blessing to pay for Section 1. The membership vote came back unanimous to move forward. Section 1 will likely be open by the time this article goes up. Sections 2 & 3 will be fundraising driven. We have some exciting ideas in the works to help with this!
SNT: How can riders around Berks County get involved and help out with the trails?
BTW: Please join or donate to Berks Trail Works! All dollars go directly towards trail maintenance supplies, materials, training, personal protective equipment (PPE), events and related programs. We have a lot of folks that are members from outside of Berks County as well as runners, hikers, and even equestrians as members. We truly value and focus on maintaining and building fun trails for all of our visitors, local and from afar
Thank you to all the Berks Trail Works members & supporters for all your incredible hard work and enthusiasm.
Thank you Stan's NoTubes for always being the best and reaching out to us.