Dwight Follien: Meet the dedicated and gregarious volunteer behind the Groveland Trail Heads and Groveland Grind

By Michele Charboneau

Dwight Follien is all about giving back to the sport he credits for literally saving his life. Like many kids, Follien grew up riding bikes, but priorities shifted as he got older. He rediscovered the magic of two wheels in 1993 when battling an excessive alcohol habit. He reflects, “I saw a mountain bike and thought it was cool … so I bought one and soon after put myself in a recovery program. Two of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.”

Bikes came to the rescue again nearly 20 years later when Follien lost his job, and with it, his health insurance. Significant medical issues ensued, including complications from Type 1 diabetes, gastroparesis, and neuropathy of both wrists. Due to unfortunate circumstances beyond his control, Follien became severely depressed, living off the generosity of friends and family.

One of these friends was Mark Davidson — then the president of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) — who encouraged Follien to get involved with the club’s inaugural Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival. Follien says, “I really needed something to do, something to inspire me … a way to give back.”

Shortly after that, MBOSC’s main trail builder, Drew Perkins, invited Follien to assist with a new trail project, the Emma McCrary trail. The early stages of trail development made an impression on Follien. “You learn to absorb the land before flagging, before anything. Just go out and walk it, learn it. I really enjoyed experiencing what was out there,  truly ‘seeing’ it, and knowing a sustainable trail would someday be there.”

Although MBOSC gave him purpose when he needed it most, Follien was unable to remain in Santa Cruz. He set his sights on Groveland, a small town near Yosemite National Park where his parents own a home. Funds from a benefit raffle spearheaded by graphic designer Kyle Maxwell, and supported by Santa Cruz Bicycles and MTBR, enabled Follien to repay debt and make the move. “I knew Groveland was a place I could put my experiences with MBOSC to work while also helping my parents out at a time they needed it, so it was the perfect transition.”

Dwight Follien

Photo: Saveria Mazzola Tilden

Follien knew that mountain biking trails can bring economic benefits to a rural community while helping local youth and serving as fuel breaks in wildfire-prone terrain. He also  knew there were plenty of US Forest Service (USFS) dirt roads in the area, but not much singletrack. So, he set out to make mountain biking trails.

Soon after his move, Follien met Kevin Galos, a local firefighter who shared his vision. Not long after that, Dusty Vaughn, at that time the USFS Recreation Specialist, invited Follien to present his vision to himself and USFS Public Affairs Specialist Vern Shumway. Impressed, they handed him a number of area maps and asked him to find a potential zone for trails — a dream come true for Follien.

The ideal location turned out to be a 500-acre failed tree plantation-turned-unmanaged fuel break between the Stanislaus National Forest and Groveland’s Pine Mountain Lake community. The area’s first mountain bike organization — the Groveland Trail Heads — took root around this project, called the Ferretti Non-Motorized Trail System.

The organization’s  original board consisted of Follien, Galos, and Vaughn, along with Galos’ wife Ariel, Ryan Byrnes, Justin Nash, and Tom Wilson. (Tom Walker later joined the crew.) They envisioned world class mountain bike specific trails at Ferretti for all levels of riders, which would put Groveland on the map as a mountain biking destination. And of course, developing trails would revive a much-needed fuel break.

With recent USFS approval to move forward with the project, efforts now turn to raising funds and recruiting a volunteer base. Groveland Trail Heads is also actively involved with multi-use trail projects in the area, such as the Rush Creek trail system and Long Gulch Ranch.

As if that’s not enough, the group is planning its second annual Groveland Grind, a mixed-terrain cycling adventure and festival that benefits Groveland trails. The event, which is set for May 18, 2019, is in need of sponsors and volunteers.

Follien will be right in the thick of it all, volunteering his time and talent. “I  need to keep busy and to keep giving back. It’s crucial for my physical, mental and emotional health.”

Learn more about Groveland Trail Heads at grovelandtrailheads.org.

Dwight Follien

Photo: Menka Belgal