Future vision for Blackhawk trails?


September 01, 2020, 02:16 PM

After frequenting Blackhawk for most of the summer, I decided to take a ride on some of the lesser-traveled trails at Blackhawk , and that ride plus all the recent work that's been done has got me thinking about the vision for BH's trail system in the long run. Is there documentation of a "if we had an unlimited number of trail builders" type of idea, or a map of the envisioned trail system?

Some observations/thoughts from my ride:
  • Blackhawk's current biggest strength is fun, playful beginner-to-intermediate trails. It's a fun place for kids to practice, for newer riders to progress their skills, and BH offers a fun progression of jumps to try as well. As such, I feel that the expert trails have become somewhat neglected as new developments are focusing on improving upon those strengths. I feel it would be worthwhile to aim for zero-to-hero range of progression to make Blackhawk the place to go to push your skills to the next level no matter what level you're starting at.
  • I love the changes that are being made. Every new trail feels like the new best thing at Blackhawk.
  • Deer Run has a lot of potential as a fun, techy downhill line. In its current state, it pretty much straightlines down the hill but with some groundwork and adding some small redirections I think it could be an amazing downhill tech line.
  • Deer run doesn't look very popular, as there is no visible wear and tear to the grass leading up to the entrance to the trail. As such it took me a long time to even find the trail at all; I was beginning to wonder if it didn't exist. Perhaps linking the access trail up to the Howling Wolff/Switchbacks junction could draw more interest and traffic, as it is already a pretty fun black line.
  • I'm still not certain whether upper Gulley is downhill-only or if it's a valid rewind for the jump line. I think it would be valuable as a rewind trail. Or, better yet, keep it downhill-only and add an easyish rewind that goes left from the last jump and connects to uphill Island (skipping Little Switchbacks please lol).
  • Lower Gully (below jump line junction) is a lot of fun as a high-speed hill blaster. Though, the way it merges with Howling Wolff near the bottom feels a bit sketchy at speed.
  • Hill 6 looks like riders only ever use the ski runs, not the singletrack next to the fence. As a result, the singletrack portions are in pretty rough shape in places, and almost unrecognizable in others.
  • Long Short was impassable in places. The whole trail had a thick layer of loose sticks on the ground and several of the turns were too tight to crank my bike around. I did not enjoy riding it. I am not sure how to improve it without more space to work with, since it's pretty cramped between the ski trail and the fence. Maybe some rerouting to reduce the number of hairpins to make the turns a bit looser would help, and/or eliminating the uphill stretches. It also is definitely not an uphill-friendly trail so it'd probably be good to just call it a 1-way.
  • Long Short and Hill 6's singletrack look like they haven't seen tires in 2 years
  • I like the idea of the bypass trail for the jump line by the parking lot, but who is it meant for? Why would someone choose to use it? It's pretty easy to just roll over those features without jumping, and the start of the bypass is hidden behind a tree so frankly you can't even tell it's there when you're approaching the split. Newer riders are going to end up just rolling over the wood bridge and the jumps anyway. I think it would be fun to first rethink the entrance to the bypass, and also to make it into a gentle roller line rather than just flat trail to keep the spirit of the jump line while also making the bypass accessible to first-time-ever beginners. It'd definitely draw more traffic off the jumps that way than it currently gets.
  • The steepest part of the hill, in between the ski jumps and ending at the jumper chalet, is undeveloped and just screaming for an expert-level berm line / flow trail. It'd be amazing to have something like that at BH.

I'd love to hear how my thoughts compare to others' who are familiar with these trails. I realize that I've suggested about 5 years worth of work in this list so I'm curious to see what parts of it are things that others would agree with and see what pieces could gain some traction from the community. Additionally, if there are trail work sessions coming up that will focus on any of these trails, I'd love to hear about them to start giving back to the local MTB scene.

Cheers!

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XXX
augs
President
Board Member

September 01, 2020, 10:09 PM

Interesting observations.  In general, yes, people are thinking about long term plans, at Blackhawk and most of our trails.  Keeping up with maintenance of existing trails is, as you note, often a challenge, and that often, though not always, takes precedence over major improvements.  What gets ridden the most gets the most attention, which can lead to a downward spiral for some less popular trails.  I've been heading up the good fight on several trails you mention for years, not always as successfully as I would like.

Some thoughts:

3,4.  Deer Run is open to improvements.  There's not alot of room in there, but if someone wanted to put time into improving it, either at the entrance/approach or further down, you would likely get support.  I don't see it getting pro help in the near future, so it would be up to volunteers.   Perhaps Trail Steward Pat Remington will chime in on that, or reach out to him directly: patrick.remington@madcitydirt.com
5.  Upper gulley is a return for the jump line.  People may still ride it down, but the the 'do not enter' sign at the top is meant to discourage that.  Though perhaps that sign is gone?  I only ride up, so might not notice if it disappeared.
6.  Lower gulley is a bit of an orphan.  Some people like it, so it still exists.  May be up for work this fall?  It doesn't do much for me, so I rarely ride it.
7,8,9.  The hill 6 single track (Long's Short Trail and the unnamed section up higher) get ridden every time I am there (once a week, usually) and by anyone I can convince to ride with me, and they are entirely rideable going up, there is one turn on the upper section that may not be rideable going down, but it's more fun as a climb than a downhill anyway.  This is excellent old-school technical riding and definitely part of keeping BH diverse and amazing.  And they get more traffic than you think.  Though the Small Switchbacks and Island (which you don't mention, did you find those?) are similar and get more traffic.  And are slated for being supplanted this fall. :(
11.  Yes, someday.

If you'd like to get involved in making anything you'd like to see happen happen, reach out.  That's how it gets done.

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XXX

September 02, 2020, 12:04 PM

7,8,9.  The hill 6 single track (Long's Short Trail and the unnamed section up higher) get ridden every time I am there (once a week, usually) and by anyone I can convince to ride with me, and they are entirely rideable going up, there is one turn on the upper section that may not be rideable going down, but it's more fun as a climb than a downhill anyway.  This is excellent old-school technical riding and definitely part of keeping BH diverse and amazing.  And they get more traffic than you think.  Though the Small Switchbacks and Island (which you don't mention, did you find those?) are similar and get more traffic.  And are slated for being supplanted this fall. :(
Perhaps I was just on the Hill 6 trail at a bad time. It's possible that the trails just hadn't gotten any maintenance since the last windstorm and happened to be in bad shape at that moment. I'd be willing to give it another chance though - I only rode it uphill which isn't exactly my favorite direction for that kind of trail.
I think my personal preferences are also leaking into my evaluation. I am a big guy who rides big bikes (I was on an XL frame 29er) so those extremely tight turns and spaces like in Long Short and Little Switchbacks are a much greater challenge than for someone who rides a size medium 27.5er or 26er. I trimmed my handlebars about 1.5" from their original length, which helps with those spots, but even so there were a couple turns too sharp to make on long short and a tree gap on little switchbacks where I handlebrushed a tree on one side and had roughly an inch of space on the other - and that is my XC bike. My enduro simply would not fit on those trails (new bikes are being made with much wider handlebars than even a few years ago). So long story short, I'm simply not a fan of those tight, low-radius-turning trails. I sometimes forget that other people are really into that kind of trail though.
And yes, I did ride little switchbacks to downhill Island. I didn't talk about it because I didn't have much to say - little switchbacks isn't my cup of tea, but it was an interesting challenge and I was able to get through it. And Island is of similar nature to lower Gully but easier, so I think its best value is in the uphill. It would be nice to have a bypass around little switchbacks at the top though (doubling as a return for people who want to ride lil switchbacks without going all the way down)

Is there a good place for me to watch out for dig days? Is there a specific facebook page that would be good for it?

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XXX

September 02, 2020, 01:47 PM

Long Short and Little Switchbacks can definitely be done both ways on big bikes with 780mm bars. It just takes practice. I think it took me like 20 tries to be able to clean Long Short going uphill for the first time. I actually think it’s harder going down as you have to endo-hop your back wheel through the corners. Little challenging trails like these keep me coming back to Blackhawk as there’s really nothing like them at the other trails in Madison.

In my opinion, trails like Long Short and Upper Island/Little Switchbacks are needed for people to gain technical riding skills in low-risk environments. We need blue/black climbing trails or tech descents that keeps the speed down and consequences at a manageable level for riders to bridge up to harder trails in ways other than bigger and bigger jumps. Otherwise the only option for intermediate/advanced riders is just to go faster and faster on the regular trails which can lead to some friction when you users going 20mph and 5mph on the same section.

Personally, I’d love to see more “braided” sections to get trail features integrated into the current trails to add different lines and challenges for beginners to advanced riders on the same trails. The new skinny-to-drop on the connector is a great example. A good opportunity for the flow trails would be to rework some of the smaller humps in the rhythm sections to facilitate doubling them without going Mach 10.

Also, I see volunteers doing trail work or maintenance almost every time I’m at Blackhawk. It’s amazing. I don’t know everyone’s name but there’s a small group of very dedicated people making a lot of things happen. Seems like there’s less dig days and more independent work happening now with COVID.

Btw - I think I rode at Blackhawk for two years before finding the old school trails. Augs probably showed them to me on a group ride. I think they’d get more use with improved  signage at their entrances.

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XXX

September 09, 2020, 05:04 PM

Seems like there’s less dig days and more independent work happening now with COVID.
What do you mean by "independent work"? Do people just go out there and do whatever trailwork they want to see done?
Personally, I’d love to see more “braided” sections to get trail features integrated into the current trails to add different lines and challenges for beginners to advanced riders on the same trails. The new skinny-to-drop on the connector is a great example. A good opportunity for the flow trails would be to rework some of the smaller humps in the rhythm sections to facilitate doubling them without going Mach 10.
100% agree
I actually think [Long Short is] harder going down as you have to endo-hop your back wheel through the corners.
We must have very different riding styles and skills. I rode it downhill on my second try (except for one spot where i hit my pedal on a rock - and even that was on an uphill stretch between the hairpins) but have never gotten past the second hairpin going up. And if you have to endo-hop going down, you'd have to do it (or similar) going up too. A good line choice gets you through. Little switchbacks seems fine for my skill set though. The turns are that little bit looser and the climbs a bit less steep.

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XXX
imwjl
Pleasant View Trail Steward

September 09, 2020, 06:04 PM

Seems like there’s less dig days and more independent work happening now with COVID.
What do you mean by "independent work"? Do people just go out there and do whatever trailwork they want to see done?
Personally, I’d love to see more “braided” sections to get trail features integrated into the current trails to add different lines and challenges for beginners to advanced riders on the same trails. The new skinny-to-drop on the connector is a great example. A good opportunity for the flow trails would be to rework some of the smaller humps in the rhythm sections to facilitate doubling them without going Mach 10.
100% agree
I actually think [Long Short is] harder going down as you have to endo-hop your back wheel through the corners.
We must have very different riding styles and skills. I rode it downhill on my second try (except for one spot where i hit my pedal on a rock - and even that was on an uphill stretch between the hairpins) but have never gotten past the second hairpin going up. And if you have to endo-hop going down, you'd have to do it (or similar) going up too. A good line choice gets you through. Little switchbacks seems fine for my skill set though. The turns are that little bit looser and the climbs a bit less steep.

Except for clearing debris and trimming weeds, it is not okay to just go do trail work unless the trail stewards approve the work and know you are qualified.

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XXX
Rwill
Pleasant View Trail Steward

September 09, 2020, 07:28 PM

For this who are unsure how to get started, I will offer a bit of input, having just recently started volunteering myself.

I ride PV a lot and wanted to give back. So I posted as much on the forum and William got in contact with me. We met up at the trail (kept our distance, masks on hand for when that wasn’t so easy), and he showed me around the tools and gave me the basic run down of how stuff works (both tools and procedure for maintenance). After that, I went out and did a bunch of weed whacking. I subsequently attended a larger work day and William and some other folks showed me the basics of doing some work on the dirt. Since then, I occasionally email and ask if anything in particular needs done. Other times I have something in mind that I feel needs done so I message to ask if it is ok to do. Most of this is mundane, but really quite satisfying.

It’s a very simple, effective, and friendly process. As others have said, however, the trail stewards have a lot of other stuff going on. You have to be proactive - offer your help when you are prepared to give it. If I know I have a free couple hours late in the week, I email and say as much. In my (admittedly short) experience so far, these offers are basically always accepted and responded to, because something always needs done.

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