The Israel Bike Trail has raised the banner of partnership between local communities and cyclists. So far, volunteers have helped create four sections of trail: Single Track Tsukim, Single Track Nahal Hava, a trail around Moa, and the Sde Boker–Avdat segment.
The first event was inspired by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, from which we learned about trail planning and construction. The IMBA provided the model for our Rider-Builder program, in which communities take responsibility for trail segments in their areas that they’ll mostly be using, under the guidance of land-management authorities. This is how some of the best-known trails in the world got started. We can’t even begin to enumerate here all the advantages we’ve seen in holding these types of events. To highlight a few:
The encounter between cyclists and open-space management – From our experience in developing new trails in Israel, particularly with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, we’ve seen a drastic improvement in the relationship between riders and land authorities. A decade ago, bikers – with their helmets, protective riding gear and colorful clothes – were perceived as lawbreakers who harm the environment and who are disengaged from the norms of travel in natural surroundings. From their side, riders felt harassed by “mean” inspectors who prevented them from enjoying nature in their own way.
Participants in the first Rider Builder events were about 50% riders and 50% Israel Nature and Parks Authority staff. This was the first time that riders and inspectors had worked side-by-side, and it opened dialogue and a direct channel for discussion and debate. The riders found that the authorities were responsible folks who would also help promote bike trails. And if one point can be identified as the start of a change in outlook at the nature and parks authority with regard to cyclists, it would be the first volunteer event in Moshav Tsofar, during the preparation of Single Track Tsukim. In the evening after each workday, participants enjoyed fascinating lectures together about nature and the environment.
Cyclists taking responsibility for trails and becoming partners in their creation – An additional important element is riders' personal responsibility for advancing and protecting bike trails. Complaints like "why don't they make more bike trails" or "why don’t I have anywhere to ride," change when riders are partners in establishing trails. The world of cycling shouldn’t be limited to buying and riding an extravagant bicycle. Many of us have linked our hobby with social contributions such as working with youth, assisting the disabled to ride, forming riding clubs and joining community watch groups as bike patrols, as well as assisting with trail construction. When riders are partners in building trails, their perception of the trail changes, as they begin to realize the range of considerations involved in planning and constructing them.
Contribution to the community – In every locale where we’ve held a Rider Builder event we’ve left behind a magnificent trail. We didn't just enjoy riding in their area; we helped improve their infrastructure.
Fun – Everyone has a great time at these events!
Saving resources – Volunteer events save significantly in the cost of establishing the trail, which enables us to continue to open new segments even in the absence of sufficient funds.
The most recent last event took place November 13–17, 2016 in the area of Sde Boker. We slept in a communal tent in Khan Shayarot. Each morning, 20–30 volunteers split into smaller teams and went out to work, led by some of the best professional trail-builders in Israel, Rami Gold, Warren Freir and Yoav Bahat.
In one week we managed to create a trail nearly 25 km long from Sde Boker to Avdat using hoes, rakes, pails and wheelbarrows. The project became even more meaningful when Bedouin schoolchildren from Avdat and kids from Tsin School in Sde Boker arrived – for the first time, we had connected their two schools by a bike trail, which was a dream come true for them! The trail also crosses an area that until then was inaccessible, creating an important link in the trail network between Sde Boker, Havarim Cistern, Wadi Havarim, Khan Shayarot, En Avdat National Park and the ancient city of Avdat. The views that riders are treated to along the trail are a memory they treasure forever from the ride.
All of the Rider Builder events have been run by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and our thanks go to all the participants and volunteers.