Interview: How to Build a Fatbike Trail with the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition
While it may seem counter intuitive, there comes a point where the snow gets too deep for even fatbikes. In areas where the snow accumulates in feet rather than inches, fatbike popularity is growing and so are the trails. To meet the need for fatbikers to have groomed trails to ride their fat tired behemoths, local mountain bike trail organizations are coming out of winter hibernation to create purpose built fatbike trails, like the trail in Marquette Michigan that was featured in the Cold Rolled film series. After hearing about the latest trail that was constructed in Sunny Vale County Park in Wausau, WI, we reached out to the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition and spoke with their president, Gary Barden, to find out just what is involved in building a “fatbike specific trail.”
Trail building doesn’t have to stop just because the ground is covered in snow – Gary walks us through the details, next.
Bikerumor: For the uninitiated, just what is a fatbike specific trail system?
Gary Barden, President of the Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition: A Fatbike specific trail system is a trail that only can be used for fat biking. Other users are not allowed to use the trail. The mechanically groomed, hard packed trail is approx 20″ wide, and is the closest thing to singletrack you can get in the winter months.
Bikerumor: How do you maintain it – how is it groomed?
Gary Barden: The trail is groomed with a snowmobile and a custom sled/drag designed and built by one of our club members. Funding for the snowmobile and gas to run it came from initial funding through our club, and from trailhead donations as well as a fat bike raffle that we started about a month ago. So far so good.
Bikerumor: Who and what got the ball rolling for the entire project?
Gary Barden: CWOCC-Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition board members and avid fat bikers, Bob Dunahee and myself initiated the project. We wanted something that was near the city to boost attendance and be closer to other amenities such a restaurant and brewpubs. We did a rough trail layout and presented it to the land manager – in this case the Marathon County Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department. Once we got the green light, we flagged the trail, got crews out to clear logs and trim back brush, produced and hung signage, purchased a snowmobile, built a groomer and created a land contract with our land managers. It was about 6 months of work in a 2 month period.
Bikerumor: Is the process of gaining approval from land managers and such any different for a fatbike trail than for a mountain bike trail made of dirt? The fatbike trail system will just melt away in the spring, right?
Gary Barden: The basics are the same, land usage and liabilities. Specifics like the use of the snowmobile on county property, where to house the machine and other implements as well as staying off existing pedestrian walking paths were written in. The trail is open from December 15 to March 15th. After which the trail needs to disappear until the following winter.
Bikerumor: Were there any unexpected hurdles in getting the trail built?
Gary Barden: Our flagging was an issue. We flagged the trail thinking what would be cool to ride on a bike, not what we could actually groom with a snowmobile. Making wide turns, and avoiding off camber ups was the new rule. We had to reflag miles of the trail to accommodate the new flow. It was a pain, but needed.
Bikerumor: Are there any plans for expansion in the future?
Gary Barden: We had to flag the trail in a very short time in order to open the trail before Christmas, so we may have not been as efficient with land/trail mileage as we could have. We are thinking we can squeeze in another 3 miles to the existing 7 mile route next season.
Bikerumor: The trail system is going to be used for the Badger State Games, right? How did that come about, and what was involved?
Gary Barden: A local shop owner, John “Nacho” Nowaczyk thought it would a good thing to get local clubs and key people to discuss the idea of integrating cycling into the Badger State Games. He invited CWOCC into the conversion, to represent fat biking. Obviously, we thought it was a great idea. At that point we didn’t have the trail system approved, so it gave us the incentive to move real fast to get it done. One of the key components and deciding factors to do this was the local visitors bureau was organizing a pond hockey tournament at the same location, on the same weekend and they allowed us to share heated tents, parking and supplied us with many items to help hold the race. It was a no brainer!!
The 1st annual Badger State Games Fat Bike Race was a great success. We had 50 riders (men and women) in total participate in the event. The majority of the riders entered the 14 mile and 21 mile classes. Looking forward to next year!!
Bikerumor: What are the requirements for riding the trails?
Gary Barden: Very basic rules, 3.8″ or wider tires with a tire pressure of 10psi or lower, yield to pedestrians, wear a helmet, and stay on the trail.,
Bikerumor: Do you allow XC skiers and snow shoes?
Gary Barden: Unfortunately, the land manager requested no other users are allowed to use the trail. We didn’t argue the point .
Bikerumor: Any advice to other mountain bike advocacy groups looking to create their own fatbike trail network?,
Gary Barden: For two years now, CWOCC has been pushing to get winter fat biking usage on our local ‘spring/summer/fall’ mountain trail system to no avail. We had push back from other winter user groups utilizing the same property. It was aggravating. The lesson learned: Rethink your approach. Organize. Think of it as a business. Find a piece of property in a local park or forest that could suit you needs, and a make professional presentation to your land managers explaining in detail what you are looking for. This will at least help your cause and get your foot in the door. Remember, it takes a lot of work, but the result is well worth the effort.