July 10, 2024

How Eco-counter advanced MTB advocacy in Germany

Every year, as part of the Take Care of Your Trails Campaign, IMBA Europe awards a member organisation with the ‘Outstanding National Trail Association award’. This award rewards and recognises an organisation that has led (is leading) the way in trail advocacy work, community, and capacity building within their nation. The winner of the 2023 award was DIMB (Deutsche Initiative Mountainbike e.V), who received the award for their ongoing work in Germany to secure, create and find solutions for trails close to home. In this interview with DIMB, we hear more about the current state of the trails in Germany and how DIMB have used their new Eco-counter to gather information on trail usage which will assist in their advocacy efforts.  

Inspired by the ‘Trails count program’ initiative in the USA by IMBA, IMBA Europe and Eco-counter were excited to announce the first round of a new Trails Count Grant Program in 2023. This new program focuses on the quality of mountain bike trail communities by measuring the number of users on trails to assess the impact of trails. The Trails Count Program jump-starts efforts of IMBA’s member organisations across Europe that work closely with municipalities and land management agencies that have the interest and political support to develop trail-use measurement systems but need assistance to get their studies started.

Our comms team sat down (virtually) with Sonja Schreiter from DIMB and local trail crew leader Markus Bader to discuss what’s been happening on their local trail network and how the eco-counter has supported their advocacy efforts.

Volunteers, the backbone of our trails

Firstly, can you introduce yourselves and your roles within DIMB Nuremberg Furth?

Hi, I’m Sonja Schreiter, I’m working full-time as the advocacy officer for DIMB – the  Deutsche Initiative Mountainbike e.V. My work involves working on the legal framework surrounding trails on the local, state and federal levels here in Germany. I advise and support our local chapters (like the crew from Nuremberg) on advocating for trail access, building mountain bike specific trails, contracts between the local chapters and the forestry office/city/ or state, and basically all the behind the scenes legal and administrative work.

Hi, I’m Markus Bader and I work in a volunteer function as the administrator of the local trail network here on the local trails outside of Nuremberg. I organise the actual on-the-ground work surrounding building and maintaining our trail network. A lot of this work is community activation, as all our work is on a volunteer basis.

What is the biggest challenge that your trail association is facing in this present time?

Markus: This question touches on the point above, that all the work on the trails is done by volunteers. This is obviously non-paid work and work that needs to be done outside of people’s normal, everyday jobs. The trail network purely exists because of a strong community of volunteers around our trail network. Without those volunteers, our trails would not exist.  So it is really important to continue to build and maintain this network of volunteers.

Sonja: A big issue, and I would say the main issue is funding. These local chapters need funding in order to continue to build and maintain the trail network. The trails are in the Bavarian State Forest, and we are in a lucky situation because they are great partners who, for example, speak with the nature conservation agency to support our cause and were instrumental in the opening if our trail network. However, Bavaria does not give any financial support to the trail group. The local forestry office gives some support in the form of materials (timber etc), but they don’t give actual money. In our opinion, the financial support has to come from public funding.

DIMB supports local trail chapters with some funding, but of course, this isn’t enough to finance the whole trail network year in, year out. The main work as Markus mentioned is on a volunteer, non-paid basis, so the trails depend heavily on the goodwill of the MTB community, working for their local trails that they love. The big issue with this is the question of what will happen as more and more people begin to visit the local trail network. As users increase, which is anticipated due to the growth in population size of the city, how will the trail network handle that increase in participation?

In 2023 you received the ‘Outstanding Trail Association award’ as part of Take Care of Your Trails. Can you describe the meaning and significance of receiving this award for your organisation?

Sonja: DIMB has existed now for over 30 years as the main advocacy group for mountain biking here in Germany, so for us to receive this award has been very special- we’re so grateful because we feel that all the hard work we have done these past years has been recognised by our peers here in Europe. We are extremely proud of what we have achieved as an organisation- advocating for access to trails, formulating a good legal framework around access, and all the efforts going into creating and maintaining our trail networks. We are nothing without our local trail groups, they make the work of DIMB a reality out on the trails.

Markus: Take Care of our Trails has been our main motto these past years. This award is a token of appreciation for all the work that has been done here- it’s a celebration of the volunteers.

Data – a key element of mountain biking advocacy work.

The population of Nuremberg is around 500,000 people, the second largest in the State of Bavaria. Adjacent to this sprawling metropolis is the  ‘Reichswald’ forest – the playground for outdoor recreation, including mountain biking. The Reichswald forest is owned and managed by the Bavarian State Forestry and is protected under Natura2000. In 2019 the local Nuremberg chapter of DIMB was started, as a result of an action by the State Forestry to remove uncoordinated (unauthorised) trails that existed in the area. DIMB Nuremberg began conversations with the State Forestry to coordinate a legal framework that would serve both stakeholders – protecting the natural environment through building a mountain bike specific trail network that is maintained throughout the year by the volunteers of the Nuremberg trail group. Today, DIMB Nuremberg has more than 400 members, a permanent trail building crew of more than 30 people, and has developed 13 MTB specific trails.

Part of the award was receiving a one-year subscription and usage of the Eco-Counter Trail counter. In traditional cycling advocacy, trail counters are used by cycling advocacy groups & town planners as a means to capture data that helps support the need for increased funding and building of local cycling infrastructure. How has the eco-counter trail counter assisted you in your advocacy efforts?

Markus: The Eco-Counter has been an extremely useful tool to demonstrate the importance of MTB trails to stakeholders through reliable data. We’ve been able to show that in the last year that some 24,000 users have visited our trail network, with most of that riding being down in the Fall/Spring months. The State Forestry recognises the importance of this data, and was actually quite surprised by the sheer number of mountain bikers visiting the area. This data helps us- as an organisation- to show stakeholders such as the State Forestry and the city of Nuremberg that we need more support in our efforts to build and maintain the network.

Sonja: Another important point to mention is that the Eco-Counter has given us really great data on when people are riding. So we know for example that most users ride after work and on weekends. We also know that mountain bikers are adhering to the guidelines of DIMB which explicitly say not to ride in the nighttime. This is very important when having discussions with the State Forestry and local hunting groups, so they can see, in raw data that yes, mountain bikers are adhering to the rules. What we can see is that the strong MTB community (DIMB) we have created is having influences on the whole community. What might be useful is to have more than one counter, as it is really hard to figure out the perfect spot to place it, you need to find a place where most mountain bikers are going to pass on their ride. On this point, the Forestry has been so pleased with us sharing our data, that they are interested in seeing more of this data moving forward. This is great leverage for us when we are in conversations with the City and State Forestry, as they can see that our organisation (DIMB) cares about the trails, and is doing everything to strengthen its position as an advocacy organisation.

What are the trends that you’ve noticed in the past year having the counter?

Sonja: As mentioned, we have seen that most riding is down after work or on weekends. Even though our trails are an ‘all-round’ offer, the data shows there is a big drop off in the summer months. A lot of locals head to the bike parks or the Alps during this time and thus do most of their riding at home in the Spring and the fall. Back to the point above. We also see that mountain bikers are adhering to the rules set by DIMB, for example, no night time riding is taking place.

What would you do differently if you had the opportunity to have the counter for one more year- how would you choose to deploy it?

Sonja: We would like to continue with the counter, and perhaps (in a perfect world) have 2 or 3 of them on different trails and compare the trends over the coming years. I think the data we are collecting here can be very interesting on a national level. The data that we are extrapolating from the Eco-Counter can be a key element when it comes to applying for funding. As I mentioned at the start of the call, the biggest challenge is funding the creation and maintenance of our trail networks. We can use this data in conversations with stakeholders, such as the city of Nuremberg, to show them the importance of this trail network to its citizens in getting them outdoors and active. Our overall experience with the Eco-counter has been very positive- it’s extremely user-friendly, and a great system for our advocacy work.

Read more: Interview with 2024’s Youth Trail advocate of the year, James Blair