To mountain bikers, there are two places to ride. There are trails, and then there are experiences. Downieville, California is an experience that will blow you away.
You betcha. In the weeks leading up to our visit we were told frequently that Downieville had the unique distinction of being the only town in California to hang a woman. In the awkward (and silent) moment that usually passed, I always wondered if they were preparing me for my Downieville experience or just sharing some fabled history. In any case, this small town of 3,500+ does have many stories to tell; most relate to the gold rush days or how mountain biking breathed new life into a struggling community.
Beyond the Classic
Downieville is most widely known in cycling circles for its namesake race, The Downieville Classic. And this event is not your ordinary mountain bike competition. It involved two days that combine cross-country and downhill racing disciplines. The best part? Riders that take on the all-mountain category must do so on the same bike, exchanging no parts between races. Cool…
There is more to the The Downieville Classic story than just big name riders at a world renowned event. It’s also the main fundraising affair for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, the local non-profit bicycle advocacy organization. Fueled by dedicated volunteers, SBTS builds, maintains, and supports many of the trails in the surrounding Tahoe and Plumas National Forests. It’s an amazing group, one that since 2003, has contributed over 20,000 volunteer hours to a recreation area that sees approximately 200,000 users a year.
To illustrate the commitment to the natural resources that provide a venue for the event, organizers of the race require sponsors to get involved with the Stewardship. This year, they upped the ante and developed a youth program in which pro riders took young mountain bikers out to discuss a variety of subjects. The most important topic was the idea of giving back to the sport that they love. It must have made an impression; we heard that following the conclusion of the workshop, many of the participants gathered in the shop to sign up the next trail work day.
(Check out a great article about The Downieville Classic and the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship in the latest issue of Decline Magazine.)
Fun is the Name of the Game
When I asked Wayne Hoffman, President of SBTS, about how the core group keep themselves excited about sustained advocacy, he quickly replied “we keep it fun”. He went on the share that F-U-N should be at the top of the priority list rather than towards the bottom. If that’s the magic ingredient for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, then everyone involved with a club (not necessarily even mountain biking) should take note.
Working the Stewardship throughout the weekend turned out to be many things, but most of all, it was inspiring. They are responsible for so many things; events, fundraising, trailbuilding and maintenance, grant writing… the list goes on and on. And what’s really awesome – they do everything well. Their events run smoothly, their trails are challenging yet very sustainable, and they generate positive energy within the community. We will be proud to tell their story as we continue our travels.
So, if you’re wondering whether Downieville lives up to the hype, it does. It’s all that, a bag of chips, and a couple of tasty beers.
More pictures from the weekend: