There's a disturbance in the force. No question the fight is on for the relevancy of advocacy groups working for the preservation of mountain bike access to trails in the United States. Monied interests are fighting for the elimination of access by mountain bikes to some of the best trails and parks in America. IMBA and local advocacies know this fight well. Some have been fighting for ages.
As the saying goes, it takes a village. In the world of Washington D.C., lobbyists and legislators meet daily. It's a symbiotic relationship when done right. However, as it applies to trail access, the problem for traditional not-for-profit advocacies is that actively engaging in lobbyist activities results in a loss of tax exempt status (a major advantage when fundraising). You need the ears of the the legislators. Right or wrong, lobbyists know how to get it. So if you're wandering halls trying to get meetings with legislators while simultaneously trying to maintain your not-for-profit status, you're pretty much pissing in the wind--and you get the results to match.
The IMBAs and local advocacy groups formed under 501(c) 3 have their place. More often locally, in the community. You've no doubt witnessed your local small advocacy group recently join forces with IMBA. No problem and definitely some advantages, but the macro-lobbying question still is left unanswered. Roadshows and trail building classes can only do so much (unquestionably, they do a lot), but they don't get to the biggest piece of meat on the table. Washington D.C. Remember for every meeting your cause isn't having with the powers-that-be, someone else is.
So what can be done? Well you have to free yourself from the model that restricts you to an unfair fight. Fortunately, there are vehicles for organization that allow for advocacy without the not-for-profit status. Unfortunately, this makes fundraising a lot more difficult, but it should make what has been raised much more effective by allowing for direct lobbying of the legislators that are shaping our access to trails.
Our advocates have arrived: The Sustainable Trails Coalition. A 501 (c) 4 organization actively engaged in lobbying for trail access on your behalf. Starting with the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2016 the group seeks to modify existing legislation and give land managers more flexibility in how they manage the trails that humans are invariably using to visit our 762 wilderness areas. It's starting to gain momentum and we encourage you to do your own homework, show your support and make an appropriate donation to STC if you can. (Maybe buy one less bit of jewelry for your ride and send it into STC.)
To be clear, it's often said that IMBA and similar groups have been too conciliatory (or worse) in their response to the ban on bicycles in federal Wilderness areas. It's easy to point fingers or express dissatisfaction--and we're entirely dissatisfied--but it's much more effective to think about the village. If IMBA wants to take one portion of this problem, STC another and everyone plays to their strengths in the name of the shared interest of mountain bike access, then we say all good. Vilifying or abandoning one organization for another just divides the tribe. Better for us to bring to bear all the forces we have and continue to fight for our access. There's more than enough work to be done here.
As for us, we're explicitly endorsing the work of the Sustainable Trails Coalition and we're putting our stickers where our mouth is. Every purchase between now and the end of July of our "Vote Singletrack" stickers is going directly to STC. So get over there, buy your sticker and we'll send the cash in. It's the least we can do. #votesingletrack