Mountain bikers patrol backcountry
Tahoe Mountain Bike Patrol members aren’t interested in issuing citations. They ride the trails to encourage stewardship, help fellow riders and hopefully improve someone’s day.
“It’s very important to know the patrol isn’t out there for law enforcement. It’s an organization that goes out into the backcountry to observe and assist people who are in the backcountry to recreate,” Ranger Bill Champion said.
Champion, the Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park supervisor, founded the program in 2001 as mountain bike patrols were gaining popularity across the country. The International Mountain Bike Association had officially rolled out its National Mountain Bike Patrol in 1994, a volunteer group dedicated to assisting, educating and informing all trail users. The program organizes and supports more than 50 volunteer bike patrol groups — including the Tahoe organization — and more than 600 trained patrollers, according to the IMBA website.
As mountain bikers became more common on the trails around Tahoe and in the state park, Champion decided to establish Nevada’s first mountain bike patrol. Twelve seasons later, the nonprofit has a leadership board, about 30 active patrollers, rides more than 75 miles of trails and helps thousands of visitors each year.
“There’s people from all over the world who come ride here. It’s a good ice breaker. You can ask them where they’re from, what trails they’ve ridden. You want to leave a good impression,” Patrol Director Kevin Joell said.
Patrollers, armed with first-aid kits, radios, maps and spare tubes, hit the trails in the distinctive red jerseys in search of recreationists who are lost, injured or just want to learn more about the state park. The volunteers work on their own schedules, but are asked to patrol at least twice a month, according to Joell.
Eyes in the backcountry
The Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park lost its full-time backcountry ranger several years ago due to budget cuts. The mountain bike patrol, which originally acted as liaison with the backcountry staff member, helped fill a void created after those reductions.
The patrollers — along with Nevada Department of Wildlife staff and other members of active resource teams — report back to rangers stationed in the frontcountry, protecting the land from the people and the people from the land.
“You can hand out pamphlets, but it’s entirely different than having someone out there who is an expert on the region,” Champion said.
The bike patrollers, equipped to handle an emergency and quick with a smile, help maintain the bridge with the backcountry. The program is moving in a good direction, Champion said, and he hopes to expand the patrols to more sections of Tahoe Rim Trail and other routes in the basin soon.
The nonprofit is holding its annual patrol recruitment and annual training this weekend. Held in conjunction with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association Ambassador training, it’s an opportunity to sign up new members and refresh veterans on the basics. The training kicks off a summer of trail building and maintenance opportunities as well as patrol events. For more information, visit the website at http://www.tahoebikepatrol.org.
“It’s really wanting to assist people and make a better day for people out there,” Champion said. “We get a better understanding that way. Sometimes the government and the public are on opposite sides of the divide. This is a way to work with people, to spread good vibrations.”
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