Complaining About Trail Work

Words Cam McRae
Date May 26, 2015

Our attachment the trails we ride, and even individual turns, jumps and combinations, becomes shockingly apparent when we ride up and find they have been messed with. Certain sections of trail give us so much elation and satisfaction that they start to feel like old friends. The way our bike floats and achieves a pleasingly familiar rhythm allows us to reach a state of pleasure that is amplified each time we return to these favourite lines. Much of the joy of the ride originates here.

skinny_jw

There is a contingent who laments the disappearance of features like this on the Shore (this one lives on for now however). And don’t call them a vocal minority. Both labels are true but they don’t like being called that. Photo – Jerry Willows

The trails on the North Shore are in a state of flux and many of the lines riders are familiar wth are disappearing. It used to be that change was slow and one or two trails every year would get re-worked, remodelled or altered in some way. The end result was a mixed bag.

If Digger was at the helm the work would be world class and after that the quality would generally filter down. In some cases kids would add some sketchy structures or build dodgy jumps. If there was a public trail day organized by the local trail association then holes would be filled with rocks and mineral soil – and the days would be spread out over five or six of the most clapped out lines. Usually one day per trail.

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This is a new feature that challenges many riders on Expresso. Those who walk it have something to aim for. Photo – Kaz Yamamura

Before the web and Strava, word would spread organically about which trails had seen some love and then eventually masses of knobbies would rush to leave their imprint. Because there was often no regular maintenance after the one-off sessions, these trails would become more clapped out than they were before the work, pushing riders to other trails which no longer seemed so beaten. This was the cycle until many of our trails were trashed.

And that’s how it went until TAP came along. Since 2011, when the local trail association (the nsmbA – not to be confused with our online mag) initiated the Trail Adoption Plan, more work than ever before is being done. And the quality is stunning. Trails that were near death have been revitalised top to bottom and inevitably the character of these lines has changed forever. Whether that has been for positive or negative is a matter of opinion, but most agree that things hook up better than ever.

skinny_side_jw

Here’s a before shot of Expresso. That’s the trail to the left of the plank, which remains in place. Photo – Jerry Willows

We at NSMB.com, with support from RockShox, have adopted a trail every year since the beginning of TAP. This year we are tackling two trails; continuing our work on Expresso (not Espresso!) with Rock Shox, and adding Ladies Only, with help from ToyotaBC. Over the last few years we doubled up with MEC for work on Expresso, a trail that was either loved or hated depending on your perspective.

Expresso has had many lives and resurrections but most recently it was a stunt-filled option with skinnies and woodwork much of the way down, except for the barely rideable eroded chutes (which I admit I enjoyed). Whoever built or maintained these structures gave up on it long ago and many were broken and dangerous.

pick_a_line

Pick a line, any line. This before shot of Expresso is representative of many Shore trails before TAP. Photo – Jerry Willows

In 2013 word got out that Expresso had been adopted and when we did our first walk through we discovered that someone had left us Sharpied messages on the stunts. Instructions like ‘keep this’ and ‘rebuild this’ were written on cedar slats and stringers. The crumbling stunts weren’t the worst of it though. The line had become a trench down to bedrock and re-establishing a sustainable trail bed would have required thousands of hours.

With Digger’s help we made the decision to re-route much of the trail, knowing that this would dramatically change the trail’s character. It went from being a janky balance fest to a flowy berm dance. We left the original line in case someone wanted to bring it back from the dead, but nobody stepped up.

ExpressoRiding_NSMB_KazYamamura-9

One of the sections of Expresso that is largely unchanged – right down to the skinny to drop (just left of Jon’s foot) for those who want it. Jon Harris shows the way. Photo – Kaz Yamamura

Since the rebuild Expresso has become the most popular trail on the North Shore. At times 3000 riders a month trace the slithery line from the fireroad to the Baden Powell. Most will tell you that both beginners and experts can have a blast on Expresso, but not everyone is happy. The disgruntled include the dude I saw the other day riding a Knolly with Monster Ts and those who love skinnies because they are balance masters. But you’ll probably find something that almost everyone is unhappy about, if not on Expresso,then somewhere else on the new North Shore. Myself included. The general complaint is that things are being dumbed down, but that isn’t my issue. At least not at this point.

Peter Morin is a local legend. Now well into his 70s, ‘Old Man Peter’ started by filling mud holes with rocks, eventually graduating to his masterful rebuild of Upper Oil Can. To this day it has stunts that have a little flow and a lot of pucker factor, and it’s in solid shape because it was built well in the first place.

Pete Roggeman lifts is wheel to make a pretty shadow. This feature, known as Expresso Smooth, survived the trail work as well. Something else for riders new to the Shore to aim for. Photo – Kaz Yamamura

Peter is a TAP adopter and he’s been working on Kirkford over the last few years. There’s a new entrance off the third switch that allows you to get some speed and there are some really nice berms. Some of the original character of the trail remains while some of it has been… modernized. Peter has been working his ass off and that the work is incredible.

One of my favourite sections of the trail used to be a speedy straight line that included a chicane with an option. Instead of going around the chicane you could straightshot a drop over some rocks, followed shortly by another drop. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always easy to find chances to get your wheels off the ground on the Shore and I really liked this one. It never seemed to change or erode and pushing the needle above 5 miles per hour around here is a treat.

Last year a line around this section started to emerge. At first the original route was still open but that is no longer the case. The re-route takes that speed and replaces it with several tight switchbacks. I’m generally a fan of switchbacks, (Angry Pirate is one of my favourite trails on Whistler) even tight technical ones, but these are not that. They are tight without being technical. They force you to slow down because of absence of slope, the tight radius, the lack of space to angle your bike and the lack of berms. I’ve seen some of the best riders I know roll through and even they sturggle to carry speed. These corners are well built, designed to shed water efficiently and they look great; but they slow riders down seemingly for no reason. And yes, I’m a little pissed about this. (I realize this is only my opinion and that many think these tight little turns are great, beginners in particular but not exclusively. Many of you may wish to point out that my inferior skills are the problem – and you are probably right).

craig

The section that pissed me off ridden by Craig Cameron. It rolls better now that it’s bedded in, and I can see now that it was part of a larger plan. High quality work by Peter Morin and Giant Canada who have adopted Kirkford. Photo – Cam McRae

Of course this puts me right where critics of Expresso sit; frustrated about changes to a trail I didn’t lift a finger on. The question is what I should do with this information. For most the answer is to complain on the internet, which I guess I’ve just done. Many of the complainers have never plunged a shovel into dirt (more on that later) and they often get ravaged on our forum and others for their views. The general thrust is that if you don’t dig you have no right to be a trail critic.

What strikes me most about these complaints, mine included, is their arrogance; the idea that all trails and trail work should be done in our image as if we are two-wheeled gods. “I don’t like this, therefore it shall not be.” Well Peter has been honing his skills and working his ass off for decades now and he’s earned the right to put his stamp on the trail he’s been bleeding into. I can vote with my tires and ride the trail less, which I likely will, but I won’t be poking a finger into Peter’s chest and telling him, on the internet nor in person, how he should build his trails. And I know many riders, experienced and otherwise, who are loving the evolution of Kirkford.

ExpressoRiding_NSMB_KazYamamura-8

If this is the North Shore that can’t be a berm. Morgan Taylor pulls blue steel on the new Expresso. Photo – Kaz Yamamura

But where does that leave us? Do we have a right to our opinion, and to share that opinion only if we build and support trails ourselves? Or only if we are working on the trail in question actively? Or not at all? Trail building obviously isn’t a democracy, but should it be a dictatorship? Locally we’ve had town hall meetings once a year, but the choir fills most of the pews making it an intimidating place for dissenters to state their case.

ExpressoRiding_NSMB_KazYamamura-1

The new Expresso certainly isn’t on every rider’s playlist. Fortunately those who know where to look can still find the janky, rooty punishment the North Shore is famous for. Photo – Kaz Yamamura

And this is where we find ourselves now. The evolution of our trails had stopped long ago, and now that it’s been reignited it’s accelerating at the rate of 5000 hours of labour per year. Without hearing the voices of all trail users, (or the haters as some have labelled dissenters) how will the unique character of the trails here and elsewhere be preserved? How can we ensure those who don’t have a voice, kids just learning to ride for example, will be well-served? What, if anything, do we owe those who want to come here for a riding vacation? How can the needs of expert riders and beginners be balanced? Is the idea of public consultation on trails blasphemy for the skilled and creative people who build and maintain the trails we ride?

These are tough questions, and it seems to me they are important for riders everywhere. Unfortunately, unlike Alex Trebec, I’ve got questions but not answers. Trail work criticism for $1000 anyone?


Who has the right to complain about trail work, if anyone? If so how and where should it be done?

Comments

shmarv
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shmarv  - June 7, 2015, 6:46 p.m.

Change is going to be inevitable, especially when you have thousands of bikes tearing up a trail every month. I suppose, in considering myself a fresh face on the Shore, that I'm welcoming to any work that gets put into trails -- when it's good work (something that can only be truly tested with time), and when it throws a new challenge your way. Perhaps that challenge is to make it "easier," but then it opens the opportunity to push your limits of speed. Perhaps that challenge makes it "harder," and throws a technical curveball into your ride, slowing you down and working on your handling skills.

Either way, I would much rather have the work being put in than to leave things to wither. To me, trail work is a sign that people care and want to preserve the thing that they love -- even if those people's knees have been worn down from their own riding, and their altruistic acts are completely selfless. #Digger

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darius
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Darius  - May 30, 2015, 9:11 a.m.

Every trail builder has built crappy sections, this is part of the learning curve. As a builder behind the Redwood Curtain I can honestly say I have built some seriously flawed trails. Ironically, I'll talk to some fellow riders about these flawed sections and they see it differently. Not every trail can be perfect, funky sections add character and challenge which can be hard to find in the modern flow trail era. Everybody is trail builder, "oh yeah I've built lots of trails". I call BS, most people have no idea how to go about building a trail from nothing, all they are capable of is aimlessly hacking the ground at their feet without any idea of how to see beyond their McLeod. Before one can crack on a trail they actually have to build one, immerse themselves in the process and make the mistakes, pay their dues. Just because you can shred a trail like Sam Hill doesn't mean you know shit about how to build one. IMO, it is quite a luxury for a community to whine about their trails. If you haven't put in the time you don't get to whine.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - May 30, 2015, 2:41 p.m.

Good points and I can appreciate most of what you're saying. Especially your point about a trail's quirks. Having recently re-ridden a few old classics, it is a nice reminder that they're not all perfect, and I think I like them more for that reason.

I disagree, though, about the sentiment that one must first be a trail builder before they can be a critic. To me that is an exclusionary view, and a bit elitist. Is their opinion also invalid if they love a trail, but have never built one? Does this apply to anyone, anywhere that creates something? Do I not get to dislike a painting because I've never painted? If someone has never written a bike review can I tell them their criticism of one of mine has no value?

No doubt the way in which someone critiques anything created by another is important here, and questions are a better way to open a discussion than outright bitching. As a trail builder, you take pride in your work and want others to enjoy it, and of course it sucks to hear criticism, whether it's valid or not (in your opinion). But to discount someone's opinion simply because they are a layman doesn't seem any more constructive than the bitching we're all referring to. Granted, I'm referring to the difference between someone saying they like/dislike riding a trail vs their contention that a trail is well or poorly built.

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darius
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Darius  - May 30, 2015, 4:51 p.m.

Well said indeed, like the many flaws in my trail building my initial statement is flawed. I agree that anyone is entitled to their opinion on any given stretch of trail. I like to hear riders feedback for better or worse, after all my main goal for building is to put smiles on faces. The rub for comes when I hear shit talking from riders who don't build or even help out in anyway.
Don't even get me started on the equestrians!
Thanks for your reply.
Darius

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oldmanbike
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OldManBike  - May 29, 2015, 5:33 a.m.

High-quality essay.

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ryan-smith
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Ryan Smith  - May 28, 2015, 11:44 p.m.

I ride and dig. I know digging on somebody's trail is forbidden. But we all change over time we all grow and evolve or decompose. I think in the long term changes that are done with consideration to the original can be beneficial.Those old lines will start to regrow and in time get rejuvenated but at some point they will be reworked that's the situation for all existing lines.
We all need to realize there's been a big shift in power and structure the municipal and provincial governments are recognizing MTB organizations, not individuals. So if you want to give back to the riding community (build sweet jumps} join one. Or you can dig on your own and have your work destroyed by just about anyone.

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robnanuk
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robnanuk  - May 28, 2015, 8:41 a.m.

I think the problem is that, in the case of Ladies it was rebuilt and not made into a new blue trail. Espresso was a full rebuild with new entrance and is not at all like the trail we all grew up riding. For me the new Espresso is good but its not what it was. it has been dummied down and now a beginner trail. The reason its so popular is for that reason. I wish that it had been rebuilt in the original condition just better. There is an obvious need for more blue trails but does it have to come at the cost of the original trails? I will never understand why we or North Vancouver refuses to embrace something (mnt biking) as part of our culture here. Squamish has and they passed us years ago in Mnt Biking trails being built. When you think of all the good trails and structures that have fallen apart it is truly sad. Grannies, Upper and Lower Crippler, Boundary, GMG and many more falling apart or gone. These all could of been maintained and part of our Mnt Bike history is gone as well. For everyone who complains maybe there is some validity to it but I find most those people do nothing but that. I wish also Espresso had been rebuilt, you can't tell me all the work that went into the new trail, man hours couldn't of been allocated to rebuild a North Shore classic.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 28, 2015, 10:37 a.m.

Expresso (like the brodie frame of the same name) in its original form, was a loamer. I just had this confirmed by one of the original builders of the trail. It was smooth and fast. While the line is different, the riding experience may be closer to the original now than what it became later. And there were so many generations of builders and stunts that it had become disjointed. Some features were well-built and others were shoddy, like a house that has had too many patchwork renos. Beyond that a similar trail experience to the old Expresso exists elsewhere on the mountain and those trails, Crippler, Grannies and Bookwus are examples, see very little traffic.

When I was a kid tennis seemed much more popular today. Waiting for courts, even on weekdays, was a regular occurrence. Here in North Van I usually see kids on scooters on some of the tennis courts much more often than tennis players. Would it make sense to make more courts right next to existing ones that aren't being used? If the District invests in trails they want them to get used. That's just economics. But it's also great for a younger generation of riders and for beginners. Maybe one reason why that style of riding is dying out here is because there hasn't been much opportunity for progression. When I started riding stunts weren't a thing. As they started to emerge we learned to ride them but we went from not riding stunts to riding stunts - on the same trails. This allowed us to move up the ladder. Eventually almost every trail became stunt laden, making the place impenetrable for all but the most adventurous and athletic beginners - or riders from other places.

What I'm saying is that having some variety may actually help us preserve the old school trails. Now that there are options the idea of rebuilding the stunts on Crippler or Starfish (for example) doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

I too lament the loss of some of the old trails, but at the same time I have little desire to ride GMG as it was in its heyday. I loved it then, even though I never rode all of it, but my riding has evolved and I'm having more fun than ever.

I did a ride this week with a friend who hadn't ridden Fromme in 15 years. He had no interest, but after a tour of some TAPed trails he's keen to come back. The number of people dusting off their bikes and coming back to ride Fromme is phenomenal.

If we want local government to support trails we need to have trails that bring people here to ride and that help introduce new riders to the sport. Expresso has accomplished that, but re-building it as it was most recently would have made as much sense as building new tennis courts next to vacant ones.

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robnanuk
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robnanuk  - May 28, 2015, 10:58 a.m.

I get it Cam. I think what everyone is doing to rebuild the trails is great and the traffic on the local mnt's has increased so much. But by definition the word maintenance (maintaining or being maintained, provision enough to support life) is not what is being done. The people that built the trails also put a lot of time and work in, its like changing art. Why can we not just build new trails? I think that is what people are asking. I can tell you took a lot of time replying to this. Don't take it personal and you are doing a great job, everyone is. Its the district that needs to get behind this. By making it hard to maintain trails they will fall apart for sure. Not sure about the tennis analogy you used, but I get it.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 28, 2015, 12:06 p.m.

I hear you Rob. As I mentioned in my piece, we were sensitive to those who remain fond of the original line, which is why we left in place as much as possible for as long as possible.

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unclebob
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unclebob  - May 28, 2015, 5:06 a.m.

Offering complaints instead of solutions is what this world has become in some ways. I love a trail when I can feel what the builder was doing or designing through a section of forest. For all those that offer their time to trail days, thank you.

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - May 27, 2015, 1:32 p.m.

A thoughtful and reasonable opinion, well written. Respect.

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jamie-hamilton
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Jamie Hamilton  - May 27, 2015, 12:55 p.m.

This is a world wide trail side topic, nice one Cam. Here in NZ trail building has exploded over the recent years. And only recently have I experienced a situation where I've caught riders complaining about updated trail work on certain features. I asked had they built the original trail? NO, had they donated their time to help maintain it? NO… So I quietly rode off found out who built trails in the area and offered my time. Now having spent some time helping out, I have a clear picture of what the trail crew is trying to create in the area. I think it's pretty obvious what I'm getting at here. 🙂

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anon
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anon  - May 27, 2015, 10:07 a.m.

Feedback is definitely important. However, how it's delivered makes a difference. For example, the difference between "How about restoring the optional drop by Feature Z" and "You ruined Trail X-this section sucks" is pretty big. Also, sometimes a change is because of something a builder had no control over such as complaints from other users on a multi-use trail or liability concerns from whoever owns the property the trail is on. A well- thought-out comment from another rider can provide an opportunity for the builder to explain why a change was made and to open a dialogue about potential alternatives (if there are any).

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Captain-Snappy
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Merwinn  - May 27, 2015, 11:10 a.m.

Yep. It's always easier to dole out poorly punctuated and frank criticism in all caps on the forum rather than constructive criticism in person. Anyhow, nothing stays the same. To expect such a thing from any perpetually-eroding trail is laughable. I expect Expresso will morph into its next iteration eventually. I'm betting on a 29+ and fat-bike only uptrack. It's so-o obvious.

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Lee-Lau
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Lee Lau  - May 27, 2015, 8:19 a.m.

Cam you wrote: "Locally we’ve had town hall meetings once a year, but the choir fills most of the pews making it an intimidating place for dissenters to state their case."

I went into May 2015's Townhall as I was unhappy with what I viewed as hypocrisy and intemperate language in a NSMBA public stance document and did not sugarcoat my dissatisfaction when addressing the directors. They cordially accepted input, clarified their stance and moderated the language and stance. So props to the directors for their openness to criticism and input.

Of course there were death-stares and post-meeting "haters gonna hate" carpfests from Mr You-know-who; which I ignored. No doubt there will always be the "you're with us or against us" from that crowd. But you can either complain about it on the internet or you can try to do something about it. Having said that my deviance from trail orthodoxy was not about trailwork but about philosophies

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craw
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Cr4w  - May 27, 2015, 9:17 a.m.

That meeting was my first NSMBA meeting. I was amazed at the adversarial attitudes I saw there. What do you think is required to get everyone back on the same page? Eventually members need to 'disagree and commit' otherwise nothing gets done. At some point people have to compromise so that the process can move forward.

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SneakyB
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Gord SB B  - May 27, 2015, 1:11 p.m.

Some personalities are so emotionally attached to the conversation and define their lives/ego by that conversation that they cannot extricate themselves from the conversation and distinguish "that it is a conversation", not a personal attack.

And yes, I have reacted personally too, so I am not all angelic here either.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - May 27, 2015, 3:15 p.m.

“The proper function of the critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it.” ― D.H. Lawrence

One thing I've learned over time (slowly) is that enduring feedback or criticism that is hard to hear can send you in one of two ways:

1. You throw up walls, get defensive, and figure out ways to discredit your critic's point of view.
2. You digest it and try to learn from it. Realize that some critics are your best allies. Critics keep us honest, make it harder to become complacent, and force us to be better at whatever it is that we do.

All that passion and emotional attachment is a huge asset to our community, but it also contributes to the vociferous disagreements we see on a constant basis. Learning how to agree to disagree, and then settle on solutions that benefit the whole community is something we're going to have to get comfortable with, because there are too many strong opinions involved to ever expect easy consensus -- ooh wait, do i get to use 'consensi' or is that a made up word? (damn, it's made up)

Everyone, always, can stand to be a better listener.

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drewm
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DrewM  - May 27, 2015, 11:23 p.m.

Excellent post Pete (and guilty of #1 semi-regularly though #2 is always on my mind).

I had an opportunity to reflect on this today (completely separately from this article -- just read it / noticed it), and I would also say that I think that passion - much like sarcasm - doesn't necessarily translate well to text (and can come across as any number of less desirable characteristics). Most certainly needs its own font…

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ryan-smith
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Ryan Smith  - May 29, 2015, 12:15 a.m.

This is a great piece of wisdom. Too bad I have so much pain inside that I can't listen or relate. I feel dejected and separated from my community and government. I know its better in the long run to forgive and forget but the cuts run deep.

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Captain-Snappy
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Merwinn  - May 26, 2015, 10:40 p.m.

You hit the nail on the head when you stated "We left the original line in case someone wanted to bring it back from the dead, but nobody stepped up". Exactly. No one wanted the old Expresso lines badly enough to maintain them, but they don't mind letting us know how shite the maintained new one is.

People are strange.

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duggie-baws
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Duggie Baws  - May 27, 2015, 7:34 a.m.

I was informed that rebuilding features or doing any work on the old line was not an option when I asked the relevant person at the DNV about it, so saying "nobody stepped up" isn't exactly true.

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Lee-Lau
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Lee Lau  - May 27, 2015, 7:52 a.m.

Interesting. DNV Parks? GK?

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duggie-baws
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Duggie Baws  - May 27, 2015, 7:59 a.m.

Yes.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 27, 2015, 8:39 a.m.

Many of the people doing trail work on the Shore have no permission but they don't let that stop them, for better or worse. I'm not condoning this btw, simply stating a fact. It's hard to imagine anyone getting upset about someone repairing what exists currently, or clearing fallen timber from the line.

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asdf
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asdf  - May 27, 2015, 5:11 p.m.

you'd think so but I've been confronted and lectured by DNV staff for simply cutting out deadfall. They seem to still cling to the ridiculous idea that every little decision is their's to make when the reality is that we could benefit mutually from cooperation.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - May 28, 2015, 12:03 p.m.

A guy has been re-routing creeks up on Fromme for his amusement and someone who lives in my house took it upon himself to restore the original alignment of one that began to wash right into Expresso, destroying hundreds of hours of work. The District knew about this but they weren't doing anything about it so this person did.

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DemonMike
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mike  - May 26, 2015, 10:20 p.m.

used to ride Fromme lots back in the 90s and rode with Peter several times , his famous barends and brake lever extensions and riding crazy steep and skinnys

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