Remembering the IMBA World Summit: A Catalyst for the Land of Oz

As we head into autumn, we could choose to engage in a professionally produced biking experience almost every single weekend. Today, the community is integrating biking into their daily lives at an unprecedented level – and yet, at DIG and Progressive Trail Design we remember when the Ozarks were just beginning to hit their big break. Though it’s taken the work and dedication of countless humans and organizations, we’d like to take a minute to remember one of the most important catalysts for the growth of our biking scene: The 2016 IMBA World Summit in Bentonville, Arkansas. An international conference designed to bring trail builders, riders, advocacy groups and land managers together to drive the future of mountain biking, it featured speakers and workshops, group rides and expos, and biking leaders from around the world. It was a realization that the trails industry is growing faster than we even knew. Today, cultivated regions like the Pacific Northwest, Southwest and Colorado aren’t the only communities dedicated to biking. It’s the growth within smaller, lesser known communities across our nation that have surprised us and excited us most. 

Mountain bikers are some of the most outspoken, advocating and active groups of people anywhere. They build the trails they ride. They work to keep them in good riding conditions. Most importantly, they band together to speak out for the sport as a positive addition to the natural landscape. In a time of unprecedented threat to public lands, mountain bikers play an instrumental role in developing positive relationships with land managers, conservationists and other members of advocacy groups. Especially for communities where trail systems and partnerships are newer, the 2016 IMBA World Summit wasn’t just for meeting other avid trail riders – it served to motivate and educate those in the trails industry with the latest information on strategies, climate, advocacy and funding tools to make trails happen.  

From women’s specific clinics and youth program initiatives, to workshops on personal branding and the setup of successful non-profits, the IMBA World Summit provided something for everyone. Progressive Trail Design president Nathan Woodruff shared some of our reflections on bike park development, while mountain bike legends Danny MacAskill and Hans Rey put their pedals to the dirt on the then-new Coler Mountain Bike Preserve trail system. Top researchers demonstrated how advocacy groups can use and conduct research to aid in securing critical funding from municipalities and federal sources to turn trails dreams into trail realities, while sustainability experts presented the latest in non-motorized transportation networks for pedestrians and cyclists in communities across the nation. Active riders and advocacy groups got a dose of education on how to organize and manage operations for successful trail building. The summit even tackled the most difficult – yet crucial – piece of building a mountain bike destination: funding. 

So what exactly made the World Summit so special for our hometown region of the Ozark Mountains? Most importantly, it proved that drive and the right set of tools can transform renegade trails into intricate, comprehensive systems and mountain bike destinations. Vice President Clayton Woodruff recalls what it was like to attend, saying:  

There were people from almost every state. All of them were blown away by what was going on here. On a national level, I believe it put us on the map...

...I didn’t speak with a single person that was not impressed by the level of trails and the growth of biking here. The trails are a big aspect of it, but what they were most excited to see was that a small community such as this could grow. If you have the drive, you can make it happen. You can create a bike town and a bike community, and the trickle down from that sparks growth in what surrounds it. You see the tourist industry, restaurants – everything – begin to thrive.” 

The Ozark Mountains may now be on the map, but our work is nowhere near over. We have to keep building, and so do others. When communities across the nation build relevant, accessible trail systems, we move closer toward a biking and trail-friendly nation – and that, we believe, will bring benefits that are nothing short of spectacular.  

Words by Kelsey Ferguson.

Photos by Novo Studio.

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