Nearly thirty years ago, the small town of Oakridge, Oregon lost its last sawmill. And almost overnight, what was once a booming logging town lost the brunt of its economic affluence to the newly listed as endangered northern spotted owl—a cryptic species which requires large swaths of intact old-growth forest to persist. With its need for dense, contiguous stands of forest, the northern spotted owl had thrown a rather large stick in the spokes of a thriving logging industry—one that likely would have logged every square inch of old-growth forest left in the Willamette Valley if it had been left unchecked. As protections for the struggling species continued to ramp up, Oakridge and the surrounding towns continued to decline. People fled as jobs vanished, and local businesses shut down. For decades poverty and unemployment ran rampant and became an issue many thought would leave Oakridge down and out for good.
Now, some thirty years later, swaths of clear-cut have begun to slowly recover, and ribbons of mouth-watering singletrack run through them. The scenery is beautiful and the trails are flowy, and people have begun to take notice. A bike shop, a pub, and a bakery have sprouted up to feed the needs of the town’s increasing visitors – the numbers of which have been growing on an annual basis. In short, this quaint town tucked into the verdant foothills of the Cascades is now well into its transition from depending entirely upon resource extraction, to actively promoting non-consumptive recreation and even forest preservation, for recognized and realized economic benefits.
Needless to say, the hundreds of miles of trails in the greater Oakridge area did not build themselves; they are the result of numerous years of hard work and dedication on behalf of a core group of local mountain bikers, many of whom are active members of the Disciples of Dirt Mountain Bike Club. During our trip to Oakridge, we set aside some time to meet with some key members of the Disciples of Dirt and joined them during one of their many, many days of volunteer trail work. To say what they’ve done for the greater Oakridge area is inspiring would be an understatement – they are a testament to the good that can come from people that are willing to build the trails they want to ride.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE: THE DISCIPLES OF DIRT
During the past 30 years, The Disciples of Dirt Mountain Bike Club (DOD) has developed from a gathering spot for local riders to connect, into a motivated group of dedicated mountain bikers and stewards of sustainable multi-use trails. As such, DOD has made it their mission to promote and enhance access for mountain bikers through grass-roots advocacy, outreach, the organization of social events, and the promotion of responsible trail use. The DOD works with local, state and federal land managers on a regular basis to both build and maintain trails that are accessible to mountain bikes. Each year, DOD members are responsible for donating thousands of hours of volunteer trail work in and around Lane County, Oregon.
One of the biggest challenges that the Disciples of Dirt face is the general lack of mountain bike-accessible trails in and around the Lane County area. Currently, riders from Eugene and Springfield need to drive at least 30 minutes to enjoy legally accessible mountain bike trails. To remedy this, DOD has their sights set on a new “urban trails” project, in conjunction with Willamalane Parks & Recreation, which will feature the first-ever mountain bike-specific section of trail on the eastern side of Springfield, Oregon. In an effort to ensure that this innovative project becomes a reality, the Disciples of Dirt are committing both time and financial resources to build a trail that Springfield residents can ride to from their homes.
LEND A HAND
While the Disciples of Dirt currently has approximately 150 members, the tasks surrounding trail advocacy, trail building and maintenance, and social outreach are quite demanding. It is understood that not everyone may have the desire or ability to get out and swing trail tools in the woods all day, so if trail work isn’t your thing there are still many other manners in which one may help the Disciples of Dirt further their efforts. Help can come in many forms, from organizing events to writing grants, to financial contributions, and so much more. If you reside in the Greater Oakridge area, within Lane County, or even just want to visit sometime to lend a hand, please consider getting involved with the Disciples of Dirt, and help them continue to increase opportunities for responsible mountain biking in their area.