The Future of the Vasa Singletrack by Chad Jordan

We are a volunteer-based,  trail-stewardship driven, building and maintenance Mountain Bike Association that has been active in Northern Michigan for 10 years. We're also mountain bikers ourselves, and we take great pride in our role as ambassadors for our sport, our region, and the people that make up our cycling community. 

You may know of NMMBA from our recent efforts to groom and maintain the Winter Sports Loop for fatbike and multiuser use. Our winter efforts have re-energized and reemphasized our focus on the condition of the trail in spring, summer and fall. To that end, we've established a committee in within the NMMBA board to improve the Vasa Singletrack, known as re:ViSiT.

The efforts to revitalize the VST closely align to our overarching goals as an organization. It is our Mission to:

-Inspire people in Northern Michigan to experience the outdoors

-Promote mountain biking and healthy trail use in Northern Michigan

-Build and maintain sustainable trails for everyone to enjoy

Those goals are perfectly embodied by the history and development of the VST. That history began with a trailhead on Supply Road, giving trails users access to the beautiful Pere Marquette State Forest. The trails we ride today were officially recognized over 20 years ago by local trail advocates. Because of the tight and technical nature of the trail, it is one directional and very well marked. 

The trail system consists of an outer loop of 13 miles. It also has a smaller 10 mile and 3 mile loop contained within it. The total elevation roughly 400 vertical feet, with most of that elevation at relatively gradual gradients.  These attributes make the trail very user-friendly and enjoyable to all skill levels, as well as a terrific place to learn the basic skills of riding in the woods. 

On any given night throughout the spring, summer, fall, and now winter, you'll find the parking lot off Supply Road filled with cars from all over the area, and from all over the state. The trailhead has become a place to stop, relax, picnic, share stories, and talk about the trail with other users. 

The VST has also become an important landmark in area efforts to make sure our sport has a future. Every Sunday in the summer, at high noon, the lot is filled with orange jerseys. Norte Youth Cycling hosts 'Vasa Domingos', the kid-paced, family-oriented mountain bike ride that draws kids as young as five and as old as late teens to put in a lap, learn the skills, and start developing a love for a healthy, active lifestyle outdoors. 

In the winter, this trailhead is home to the Winter Sports Loop with groomed fatbike trails. Fat biking is a fast-growing segment of the cycling industry, and the 4" or wider tires are perfect not only for snow riding, but for the rough and sandy conditions that we find with our sandy soils. 

The VST has a tremendous value, and we feel that with some work, a plan, and some patience, we can improve the trail to be more fun, more attractive, and more enjoyable for all users. 

The Revitalization Plan

The founding fathers of the VST should be proud. The VST has certainly gotten its use and decades of enjoyment have taken their toll. Many sections of the trail have been worn out, with large sand pits getting deeper and wider, roots are becoming exposed, rough, and dangerous. Our three-phase plan is shaped not to expand the trail, but to improve and fix the existing trails. 

Phase 1 (Short-term)

Phase 1 is already underway. These efforts include:

-Trimming, roots, branches, and stumps.

-Redesign and reroute poorly designed sections

-Alter trail to change the speed in certain sections of trail

-Fix deep sand pits and prevent sand sections from spreading

-Take advantage of decades of trail design experience

-Parking lot expansion

Phase 2 (Next Season)

-Continue with designated reroutes. We'll be able to learn, adjust, and correct the trail based on real world feedback. 

-Work to improve relationships between NMMBA, the DNR, trail users, and other trail organizations. We understand that the health of our natural resources requires all hands and all voices.

-Install a water source. 

-Begin campaign for Pavillion or warming hut, especially for fat bikers in the winter. 

Phase 3 (2-3 years out)

-Adding shape and structure to the parking lot and incorporate experiential features

-Design/build Pavillion  

-Continued maintenance

-Organize trail days and race/tour days

We recognize the Vasa Single Track to be the destination of our off-road cycling community and are excited about the life the trail will receive during and after or revitalization plan.  We invite any and all of you to use the trail and contact NMMBA with any ideas and vision you may have for the VST. We plan to leave this trail better than we received it.  

NMMBA At MSB!

We had a blast helping design, clear, mark, and sweep the course this past Saturday! Our own Kim White documented the process from conception to completion, and we'll take you along for the ride. 

See it. Before we get out in the woods, we made a provisional route that balanced fresh sections of singletrack and open trail to allow for plenty of passing opportunities. When you put 800+ people into the woods in 30 minutes, it's important for the health of the race to avoid backups as much as possible. We also examine how much traffic might affect certain sections and remove them if they may become too sandy, loose, or rutted with pre-riding or increased traffic after the race is over. 

Next, we get out there! Our board and PLENTY of volunteers got out to pre-ride the route and begin the process of marking the route. As you know, it really helps to have riders and racers marking a course. They know exactly how hard racers are going and what they're looking for headed toward every intersection. We're proud to say that everyone was on course! 

We even got in on the action! Steve Mentzer and Mike Walters were out racing with 800+ of their pals and teammates, including Chris Gallagher and Dave Bucholtz!

Then, we sweep! Liz Belt and Chris Wood provided some mechanical support on the Stout course, while Tom White headed back out for another lap after finalizing markings. 

May Is National Bike Month!

Bike Month is a great way to highlight the many ways cycling adds to the health and growth of our community. There are benefits to every sort of cyclists, and at the end of the day, we love seeing people pedal any way they enjoy. 

We are very fortunate to have a number of cycling-friendly organizations in Traverse City, and NMMBA is just one of those groups that work to make our region more supportive, accessible, and enjoyable for enthusiasts in the region. Bike Month, for us, is an opportunity to invite cyclists of all ages and abilities to enjoy the trails and see if mountain biking is something they'd enjoy. We understand that there are so many ways ride, and would like to encourage everyone to try something new this month. 

We find that the most accessible way to try mountain biking is to take a lap of a well-marked and well-maintained trail system, and that's something we work very hard to provide to locals and tourists in the region. We also understand that have guidance is important; riding with a friend, joining a club, or even contacting local groups like NMMBA or a local shop, are great ways to learn more about where to access trails and what to bring with you when you're out there. 

Conversely, we'd like to challenge our members and die-hard mountain bikers to try something new themselves in celebration of Bike Month. Try a new commute, experiment with a new paved trail, or make an effort to bring a friend that has never ridden out into the woods with you in May. Bike Month is a time to support bike organizations and initiatives, but also to highlight the simple pleasure of pedaling with a friend. 

Want to make sure we have trails to enjoy this Bike Month, and for a long time to come? You can donate to NMMBA and stay in touch on Facebook and Instagram for news on events, trail days, and more. 

To learn more about National Bike Month, head over to our friends at The League of American Bicyclists

NMMBA Race Design: Mud, Sweat, and Beers

Who better to design courses than the people that work to design and maintain the trails themselves? NMMBA is lending a helping hand to bring hundreds of racers onto the North American Vasa on May 6's Mud, Sweat, and Beers. 

There's a lot that goes into a course design, and it's certainly much more that tossing up some arrows, some ribbon, and shouting "Go!" NMMBA has worked hard to design a challenging, fun, and exciting course that is accessible to the 800 racers taking on a 10 or 20 mile course. MSB is a very important fundraiser for Mt. Holiday, a non-profit that provides year-round entertainment, skiing, and outdoor recreation for Traverse City's East Side. Having a well-rounded course is extremely important to the health and success of the event, and many hours have been put into designing just the right loop. 

First, we need to account for the number of racers. A persistent problem with events with hundreds of racers is congestion, with a wide range of abilities and fitness levels funneled into tight singletrack. The start of the race, which includes the famous mile of pavement linking the race to the woods, is very useful in breaking up the big start waves, but there's an inevitable logjam with so many folks in the woods. The 2017 route limits these choke points to later on the course, and keeps those sections short to reduce the amount of backup that could happen. 

Safety is also a huge concern, and this also contributes to how and when the race hits singletrack. Narrow, tight courses make any emergency response slower, more difficult, and less safe for any stricken racer. It's another big contributor to what singletrack sections are added or taken out of a route. For 2017, we've based the sections used on accessibility as a big factor. 

Of course, another big consideration is the health of the trails. We work with local races and rides to alternate and redirect traffic away from 'tired' or heavily used sections of trail. We've made changes to MSB and other events to allow for trail work to renovate and alter some existing trails to be more sustainable and more fun. This helps improve the longevity of the many great options we have in the woods, and the cooperation of big races like MSB is invaluable to the health of some of the very popular trails that feature in the area. 

The 2017 Mud, Sweat, and Beers course is the product of many factors, and the reduced singletrack in this edition will open up a fast and aggressive race for all categories. We're excited to work with the MSB crew going forward to keep the route fresh, with different sections added and taken out every season.