Celebrated flow trail opens in Bay Area

Trail builders take pride in completion of innovative mountain biking trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains

By Michele Lamelin

Teamwork in the forest on the Bell/Blackburn employee dig day (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports).

Teamwork in the forest on the Bell/Blackburn employee dig day. (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports)

The final segment of the eagerly awaited and immensely popular flow trail at Soquel Demonstration State Forest (SDSF) has been completed and the trail opened to the public in its entirety on Friday April 16, 2015. A Grand Opening celebration including refreshments, live music and a volunteer raffle is planned for Saturday May 9, 2015 (RSVP required; sign up here).

Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBoSC) partnered with land manager SDSF California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) in 2013 to build a trail to replace a favorite stretch of singletrack that was reverted back to an access road for logging operations. The objectives of the project were to promote mountain biking by creating a progressive trail that could be enjoyed by riders of all ages and ability level, and to increase the diversity of riding opportunities, demonstrate innovative and sustainable trail building design and techniques, and provide a model for other land managers for similar types of projects.

The flow trail is best suited for mountain biking in the downhill direction. Flow trails emphasize speed and rhythm, featuring berms, rollers, jumps and other features that are designed to use the rider’s momentum to minimize pedaling and braking. Flow trails help riders develop their skills and deliver smiles for all.

The site of this innovative trail is a 2,681 acre working forest established in 1990 and managed by CAL FIRE. Soquel Demonstration State Forest (SDSF, colloquially known as Demo) is a favorite destination for Bay Area and Santa Cruz County mountain bikers and contains trails for intermediate and advanced mountain bikers, with long climbs and challenging, technical descents. One of five forests in the state managed by CAL FIRE, this self-sustaining working forest employs sustainable timber harvest practices and is a community resource for education and public enjoyment of forestry, demonstrating the feasibility of public access in a working forest.

The flow trail at SDSF is the first of its kind on public lands in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. This type of progressive trail is extremely popular with mountain bikers, and the SDSF flow trail has been attracting riders from all over as segments have opened. MBoSC President Mark Davidson asserts, “By employing and showcasing modern trail construction techniques, significant long-term benefits are being realized not only in the local area, but also statewide and regionally.” He adds, “The flow trail demonstrates the viability of providing mountain biking trails that are intentionally built to be fun and safe while protecting natural and cultural resources.”

Volunteer involvement was crucial to the success of this vast endeavor. Over 500 unique volunteers have donated 6,300 hours of labor to build this epic trail that features a 1,280 foot elevation drop over 3.75 miles and 37 switchbacks. Volunteer work days were scheduled about twice a month, and sponsored by cycling industry and community businesses. Local industry giant Bell arranged for employee dig days in both build seasons (view full set of Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports photos here). Volunteer crew leaders were trained by MBoSC to supervise and teach trail workers of all ages how to confidently and safely build trails. In addition to volunteer labor, MBoSC employed two full-time trail builders and hired conservation crews from Santa Cruz based American Conservation Experience.

Specialized Bicycles pro rider Matt Hunter evaluates a berm on Segment 6. Hunter is renowned for his elbow-dragging tight cornering; check out https://youtu.be/jOlVJv7jAHg. But kids ... don’t try that at home.

Specialized Bicycles pro rider Matt Hunter evaluates a berm on Segment 6. Hunter’s elbow-dragging tight cornering is world renowned; check it out at https://youtu.be/jOlVJv7jAHg. (Etienne van Rensburg)

The final volunteer trail work day took place on Tuesday April 14, during the week between the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival and the Sea Otter Classic in nearby Monterey. This event was sponsored by Specialized Bicycles and Specialized pro riders from around the world pitched in alongside Specialized employees and other flow trail volunteers. Read our preview about this final work day, and check out this photo gallery featuring shots by Etienne van Rensburg courtesy Specialized.

SDSF Forest Manager Angela Bernheisel has been an integral part of the flow trail team and is happy to see the project through to completion. Bernheisel cautions flow trail riders to ride safely, and to familiarize themselves with the forest’s rules ands trails for the best possible experience in the forest. She adds, “Thank you to all the amazing volunteers and sponsors of the Flow Trail who made this project possible. This trail adds more diversity and opportunity for recreation at SDSF.”

Flow Trail Construction Manager Drew Perkins is also glad to see the project come to a successful completion. He says, “We couldn’t have done it with the support of our incredible team of volunteers, sponsors, donors and land manager. We hope this trail can be an example for other land managers in California of not only a sustainable and fun bicycle oriented trail, but also successfully utilizing volunteers for trail construction and stewardship.”


Riding the flow for the first time?
It’s important to note that although the flow trail segments are novice-friendly, it does require fitness to get to and from the trail, and to ride all six segments together. Bring plenty of water, plus watch your speed and look out for other riders as the trails at SDSF are particularly busy these days. Familiarize yourself with SDSF rules and your riding route before your arrival. Download the SDSF brochure (which includes a detailed map) here, and learn more about this popular destination here.

“Anchoring” the trail with a downed branch. Anchoring is a trail design technique that helps direct the flow. Done properly, anchors blend with the environment and are noticed only by a trained eye. (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports)

“Anchoring” the trail with a downed branch. Anchoring is a trail design technique that helps direct the flow. Done properly, anchors blend with the environment and are noticed only by a trained eye. (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports)

Distributing duff to the center of a well-crafted berm. Re-naturalizing is a crucial component of responsible trail construction. (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports)

Distributing duff to the center of a well-crafted berm. Re-naturalizing is a crucial component of responsible trail construction. (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports)

Bell Brand Marketing Manager Azul Couzens scopes out a spot to bury the body, er, redistribute the duff. (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports)

Bell Brand Marketing Manager Azul Couzens scopes out a spot to bury the body, er, redistribute the duff. (Josh Sawyer/BRG Sports)

Specialized Enduro teammates Anneke Beerten and Curtis Keene are masters of making hard work fun. There may have been some friendly dig competition out there, too. (Etienne Van Rensburg)

Specialized Enduro teammates Anneke Beerten and Curtis Keene are masters of making hard work fun. There may have been some friendly dig competition out there, too. (Etienne van Rensburg)

British Specialized pro Hannah Barnes summed up the experience in a post on her Facebook page, saying, “So much fun trail building near Santa Cruz today, and with such a lovely group of people! It was great to see how much passion and hard work the local biking communities put into their trail development and to be part of it for a day!” (Etienne Van Rensburg)

Specialized pro Hannah Barnes from Great Britain contributed a fair amount of sweat equity to the flow trail and summed up her experience saying, “So much fun trail building near Santa Cruz today, and with such a lovely group of people! It was great to see how much passion and hard work the local biking communities put into their trail development and to be part of it for a day!” (Etienne van Rensburg)


Adventure Sports Journal is proud to have sponsored this exceptional project by providing prizes for the volunteer work day raffles. Raffle items included items from Mt. Hermon Adventures Redwood Canopy Tours, Eagle Nest Outfitters (ENO), Deuter, Platypus, Crazy Creek, Deschutes, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Clair Tappaan Lodge.

Read our Apr/May 2014 (Issue 78) cover story on the SDSF flow trail: Digging the Flow by Matt De Young with photos by Bogdan Marian. De Young, along with construction manager Drew Perkins, was hired by MBoSC to work full time on the flow trail and has constructed trails in California, Colorado and Wyoming.

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