Ask Mrs. Trails: Erin Chipps
Trails can serve a diverse use, including mountain biking! We talked to Erin Chipps, a volunteer for the Northwest Trail Alliance, about her love of trails and mountain biking:
Could you tell us who you are and how you are personally connected to trails?
My name is Erin Chipps. By day, I'm an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Federal Highway Administration. Outside of work, I'm a mountain biker, hiker, trail runner, photographer, and I volunteer my time as Communications Director for the Northwest Trail Alliance (NWTA). NWTA is a regional mountain bike advocacy non-profit, and besides working hard to create a welcoming community for all ages and abilities of off-road cyclists and maintaining the trail systems we do have, we are also working with the City of Portland to create space for bikes on narrow unpaved trails throughout the city.
What is your favorite thing about trails?
I love that I can hop on a narrow, twisting trail in the woods, whether on foot or on a bicycle, and instantly feel more at ease. I grew up in the rural wooded outskirts of Salem, OR, and though I love a lot of what Portland has to offer, I absolutely need that escape back to the natural world to feel whole. It's really cool that Portland has some natural areas that can provide that connection for people on foot, and it will be extra cool when Portland someday provides that connection for more people on bikes all over the city.
How important are the trails in your neighborhood?
Unfortunately, I don't have any unpaved trails that I can easily access from my home in North Portland. I need to get in a car or spend an hour or more on public transit to get to an unpaved trail in a natural area. Manyof my neighbors don't have the luxury of a car or the spare time to spend two hours on public transit just getting to and from a natural area. Having easier access to nature trails would immensely benefit both my neighborhood and the natural environment. Not only would more people experience the health benefits of getting outside and moving their bodies, we would all benefit mentally by having that small escape from the rigors of city life. In addition, when people are given the opportunity to access nature, and are allowed to experience it in the way they find most enjoyable (whether walking, running, biking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking, etc), they often grow an interest in doing their part to protect the natural environment. It turns out that nature needs us as much as we need nature. The more Portlanders we can provide with an opportunity to experience the great outdoors, the more Portlanders we see in turn become advocates for the long-term health of the environment.
What are some major or fun destinations along the trails you use?
For me, the fun is the trails themselves. I enjoy seeing the changing seasons, watching or listening to wildlife, or at a bit quicker speed like trail running or biking, I love those little technical "wins" like picking my way through a rocky patch without tripping or riding through a series of roots or rocks that I'd previously had to push my bike through.
Have you been involved with the construction of any of the trails as a volunteer? If so, what was that experience like?
Absolutely! The NWTA is a relatively small organization, but we log tons of volunteer hours: over 10,000 hours last year, and the majority of those hours were building and maintaining trails and bike parks like Gateway Green in East Portland, or our bigger riding destinations about an hour outside Portland. Trail work is something that mountain bikers pride themselves on, and we've literally written the book on sustainable trail design and management (Guidelines For A Quality Trail Experience). Working on trails is hard, dirty work but it's also a great community-building activity. We try to make each work party a fun event - we often provide coffee and donuts in the morning, then break into small groups that each will tackle a different section of trail, then reward everyone with lunch and beverages afterwards.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to add that most mountain bikers are not the full-face-helmet guys you see riding off cliffs on TV... Most of us know and follow the rules for sharing trails with other user groups, and we really just want to pedal through the quiet woods with our friends and families, challenge ourselves, and be outside enjoying a little bit of nature away from cars and the insanity of modern life in the city.