July 11, 2022
Fee Wallace- Our Trail Advocate of the year award winner!!
You know that one person who just goes above and beyond what is expected of them? That person who encourages others to get involved, puts in extra hours, never complains, and just loves giving back to their trails? Every year we love to highlight “Trail Advocate Of The Year”. This is a special award where the nominee must be nominated by someone from their club, crew or just an admirer of their work.
Fee Wallace, affectionately known as ‘the cheeky chancer’ has been described as the ‘driving force’ behind the Aberdeenshire Trail Association. Fee has been instrumental in leading the recovery of the Aberdeenshire trail network which was most heavily impacted during the 2021 storms in Scotland (80 % of the trail network was lost). Fee has been the chief driver of the 2022 TCoYt campaign, through onboarding new volunteers, and organising regular trail maintenance events.
“In a sport that’s fuelled by individuals’ passion, she has a great manner of extracting the best out of people, whilst also managing expectations and negative attitudes. Her positivity and drive has been a breath of fresh air within the committee”- ATA Volunteer
Trail maintenance aside, Fee has worked on building better relationships between local trail builders, local authorities and the national forestry agency. With the pressure on trail associations to recover and rebuild the trail networks, Fee led conversations with the national forest agency to support trail builders in areas which previously were not involved with the association. Furthermore, Fee has led engagement with environmental agencies on tree planting initiatives to assist with the recovery of the some 8,000 hectares of woodland that was lost.
We took the time to hear more from Fee and how her role as a volunteer social media manager for ATA evolved into so much more!
I don’t know everything about trail building, but I’ve been involved with The ATA for a while. My boyfriend, Mark, is now a full-time trail builder and was part of the founding committee for Aberdeenshire Trail, he got me involved and since I started attending dig days in 2019, I was treated as an equal, so have been allowed space and time to learn. I started out helping with social media and a couple of ‘take-overs’ of their account during dig sessions. I enjoyed showing off the hard work everyone was putting into developing trails. (It was a good excuse to showcase some of the fun and hilarity that takes place on a dig day too!) I became more involved and was asked to help run the social media pages and comms and given this is how we largely engage with the public, it was quite a big job, especially following the storms.
I am now part of the committee and help to manage the day-to-day running and development of the ATA, and also help set up and take part in dig days. There’s always lots to do and no two days are the same, but it’s all good stuff and we have a solid team!
Breaking down barriers:
We have used our media pages to act as link between mountain bikers and the landowners and other bodies. Whilst we recognise the importance of conveying information, we also can’t take ourselves too seriously on social media, and try to harness the benefits from the platforms, using the sites to show some of the work projects we are involved with, and highlight what positive, respectful working relationships with land owners and managers can achieve. I think this has really helped other groups who ultimately have the same passion for creating, maintaining and riding awesome trails. They have been able to come forward and look to also harness some of the benefits to support their own forests. Essentially, behind it all, we are all just riders wanting the same thing and if we can get out there and talk to people about our work, then it is only going to continue to develop other areas of Aberdeenshire.
I see mountain biking in Aberdeenshire (and Scotland, and beyond) as being one big machine, with lots of different parts and cogs. We can’t work well unless we are all talking, working and helping each other. Yes, some parts are different sized than others, but without all the cogs turning, it slows even the bigger parts down. So, if we can all listen to, support, and lift each other up, then mountain biking in Aberdeenshire can only get better and better- like one big, well oiled, machine!!
The biggest challenges we face as an association…
We do this all on a volunteer basis, and as you can imagine it’s pretty hard going alongside our full-time jobs. We have a committee of 4; Chris, Kev, Jan and myself. We are supported by some amazing people like our Trail Leads, and of course it would not be possible without the likes of Will Clarke from North East Adventure Tourism/DMBinS and guidance from previous committee members. However, the volume of work at times can be significant, but it is largely all good stuff!
Aberdeenshire is a large geographic area and we are so lucky to have so many supportive landowners and managers who understand the need for multi-purpose land use and therefore support mountain biking. We also have a hub of bike shops who are supportive of what we do and what we are trying to do- having the community support and community funding allows riders to feel there is a community ownership of their trails. We have a lot of exciting projects coming up which will look at developing trail networks further, and encouraging more people to get involved in maintaining trails. It is also a goal for us to be able to secure some funding with the aim of employing someone for the ATA which will help share the workload and keep us on track to continue maintaining and developing trails across Aberdeenshire.
Rebuilding after the 2021 storms
As you know Aberdeenshire was hit by 3, pretty significant, storms over winter that wiped out about 80% of our trail networks. As a riding community we were absolutely gutted, and it really changed the plan of action for ATA. Almost overnight we then became an info hub between landowners and mountain bikers. There was a hunger for information about forest, trails, and recovery. It has taken a long time to get trails safe, and back open, and a lot of our work took place behind the scenes, almost round the clock. We had people going into forests and surveying trails, geo-mapping the fallen trees so that chainsaw teams could be set to work.
We were able to reopen trails in Aboyne within a week, and this wouldn’t have been possible without our pre-existing relationships with landowners. It was great, a crew of volunteers rocked up and followed the chainsaw teams, clearing up the debris and making the trails safe. Other areas of the Shire have taken longer, with different landowner priorities, which is understandable. We have been able to access funding through DMBinS to support the build of a new trail by CRC trails, in Aboyne for people to ride whilst efforts to clear forests continue elsewhere. We have recently also accessed funding through DMBinS for a chainsaw team to open a few more trails in Pitfichie, so although progress is slow, we continue to try to open more trails for riding. We still have a long way to go, and looking ahead at how we can future proof some trails and recognise the impact of clearing so many trees. We have linked up with a few companies and projects who look to support our effort with tree planting later in the year and we have recently been involved with some conservation projects that recognise our wider impact on land use also.
A shout out to the Aberdeenshire Trail Association
I’m proud to be part of the ATA and think that we, and trail associations across Scotland are doing lots of awesome things for mountain biking. We might not always get it right, but we are always trying to improve and act on behalf of riders. Trail Associations gives riders a platform to get involved in the development of trails and support projects as they roll out. It also gives a central point of communication between landowners and riders, and makes things streamlined in terms of how they start to manage safe use and access on their land, it’s all good stuff. I would encourage anyone with some spare time to get signed up to a dig day and find out more about what is happening in their region, and if you don’t have spare time, that’s ok- there are other ways to give back to trails in your area, just reach out to find out more.
Find out more about the Aberdeenshire Trail Association HERE
Fee will receive a VIP Pro package, which includes a trip to your nearest Specialized headquarters for a day of fun on the trails and an Evoc backpack