Grass Roots Trail Building 101: An Interview With Kentucky Trail Pioneer, Chad Irey
*UPDATE! The Devou Trails Website is now live!*
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area is not currently known for being a hot spot for mountain biking, yet good things are happening that prove that no matter where you live or what the terrain, good trails can be built. With more than 10 quality trails within an hour’s drive, and more being built as we speak, riders in this area are fortunate to have incredible trail organizations such as the Cincinnati Off Road Alliance and the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association constantly pushing for trail improvement and expansion.
The Devou Back Country Trail system is the area’s newest development, and one that has promise to become one of the nation’s great ride centers. Devou touts as much elevation as the closest ski resort, which in SW Ohio/N Kentucky is saying something at least. This, coupled with progressive trail building with IMBA standards, will make for an impressive trail system regardless of its location. Currently a ~2.5 mile out and back with one of the areas toughest climbs, and best descents complete with huge berms, rock gardens, and flow for days, Devou is off to a great start thanks to the spearheading efforts of Chad Irey and an army of volunteers. Devou also boasts one of the nations few permanent cyclocross courses, in addition to Kentucky’s other permanent course in Louisville.
I recently got a chance to ride with Chad at Devou during a super fun, low key, Super D Race that he put on as a fundraiser for the trail which seemed to be a great success. Afterwords I got a chance to sit down, and pick Chad’s brain to the benefit of trail builders and future trail builders everywhere. The success of Devou is proof that no matter where you live, with the right organization and dedication, solid mountain bike trails can be built.
GoPro footage of the trail, plus the full interview after the break!
This is a quick edit of yours truly blasting down Devou on an Orbea Rallon, look for a full review of the Rallon in a few weeks! The video was filmed using my GoPro HD Hero and the GoPro Chesty camera mount. The Song is 18 candles by the Sessions.
BIKERUMOR: What made you want to create a mountain bike trail? Or maybe the better question is what made you want to get involved?
Chad Irey: Quite a few reasons; 1) I have ridden all over the country and even outside of the country on countless miles of trails. I have been off-road cycling since I was 5 years old (I count riding BMX bikes on trails as off road cycling). I thought it was time to give back to a sport that has given me so much. 2) I settled around Devou Park because it is a 750 acre park. 250 acres of which are undeveloped. I kind of have a 750 acre back yard. I had been hiking the 250 acre undeveloped parcel for many many years and felt it was the perfect spot for off road cycling trails. 3) I enjoy racing bikes, I needed a home court training facility that was super close to my house.
BIKERUMOR: After you made up your mind, what was your first step?
Chad Irey: Obtaining permission from the City of Covington, (the managing entity of the park) It was a 3.5 year process. But, it was well worth the wait.
BIKERUMOR: What went into picking the location and the long term planning for the trail system?
Chad Irey: The fact that there was 250 acres of undeveloped public land just sitting there that also happens to be a 10 minute ride from my house.
BIKERUMOR: Cincinnati has a fairly conservative attitude towards mountain biking which CORA has done a great job to overcome, how is it just across the river and how has the city received the project?
Chad Irey: The current administration of the City of Covington is behind this project 110%. The Covington Leadership understands the economic and intrinsic value that trails bring to a city and/or community.
BIKERUMOR: How much of the project are you in control of?
Chad Irey: The Devou Trail Project is multi-disciplined. We have proposed: about 8 miles of Cross Country trails, about 2-3 miles of Downhill trails, and a permanent 2 mile cyclocross course. Hopefully a future skills park complete with dirt jumps, elevated features and a pump track will be located near the trail head. I am the Lead Coordinator over all the disciplines. There are two gentleman who have stepped up to lead the cyclocross course and the downhill phases of the project, and all three of us are working together. Cyclocross and Downhilling are their respective disciplines. The duties of the lead volunteers are multi-faceted. 1) We must design and layout some really rocking trail, all the while keeping it sustainable 2) We need to host trail days to construct previously laid out rocking trail. 3) We must raise funds to support the tools that support the volunteers that help install the rocking trail. I am the lead volunteer coordinator for the Back Country Trails, yet over see the entire multi-disciplined project.
BIKERUMOR: What is your day job, and how are you balancing work, riding, and trail building?
Chad Irey: I update homes for a living, I remodel them. So I am self employed. If you need some sweet custom work done in your house, or a sweet ribbon of trail in your back yard, give me a shout. The Devou Park project entails much more work than I ever envisioned when I first embarked on this adventure. However, it has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever done in my life. My riding time has decreased, but that is not all that bad of a thing. I once over-heard a local trail builder say that he liked building trails more than he liked riding them. I immediately called him nuts. I do not know if I like building more than riding them, but I can now say I like both about the same. There is something super sweet about carving a great line in the dirt. It is even sweeter to then ride said line. Building trail is a great work out and gets you fit and trim for some big riding!
BIKERUMOR: What have been the biggest setbacks or hurdles to overcome?
Chad Irey: Hmmmmmmm, I would say weaving through the political maze during the approval process. Now that we made it through, I am not so politically dumb anymore, I understand why it is the way it is.
BIKERUMOR: What is ultimate goal for Devou’s trails, as in mileage, difficulty, and variety.
Chad Irey: Devou’s ultimate goal is to be a venue that will attract all levels and all disciplines of cycling. We even have very pristine road riding out the back door of the park.
BIKERUMOR: Devou also has a permanent Cyclocross course right? What was your role if any in building that?
Chad Irey: Only in an advisory roll. Helping with layout, fund raising and being a liaison between the course and the city. Also, hitting the weekly cross practices and trying to put the hammer on those field jockeys. Thursday nights, I get home from work, hit the trails for a few laps, then hit the cross practice. All within a 10 minute ride of my house. I get a great workout with some great people.
BIKERUMOR: Would you consider Devou to be a Ride Center in the making, and if so what are the benefits to a ride center over a single trail?
Chad Irey: I sure hope so. That is our intent and the direction we are going. I think the benefits are too many to list.
BIKERUMOR: What would be your best advice to someone in another city who wants to take on something like Devou?
Chad Irey: Create a solid business plan, then do not take your eye off of the prize.
BIKERUMOR: Is there anything I missed, or anything you would like to ask?
Chad Irey: Yeah, when you going to let me ride your full suspension bike? (any time Chad, but it may be a little small!)
There are many, many people that have helped bring this project to fruition and who continue to work diligently to ensure that it lives up to its full potential. There are too many names to list. Please make sure that everyone knows this is just not me doing all of the work. Someone has to take the lead, and I am that person, I could not be a successful project lead if it was not for all those in supporting roles.
I encourage everyone to support your local trail effort and to give back in some form or fashion to the sport that has given us so much. Giving back does not have to be shovels in the dirt, support can come in many forms. I am a perfect example of someone who used to ride, ride, ride and never did any type of trail work. The guy who reaped the benefits of everyone elses’ hard work. Over the past many years, I have realized how extremely important grass roots trail initiatives are to the future of off-road cycling. I trust the next generation of trail builders will morph the same way.
Trail days are the second Saturday of every month from 7:30am – 12pm or so. Tools provided. Eye protection, gloves, and long pants are recommended.
We have a website that is currently being developed and should be live in the next few weeks. www.devouparktrail.com