June 27, 2024

Interview with James Blair, Youth Trail Advocate of the Year 2024

The Take Care of Your Trails campaign is about recognising and highlighting the importance of the people behind the trails. Without trail crews and associations, we wouldn’t have mountain biking, it’s as simple as that. It is an opportunity for mountain bikers to take responsibility for their environments, recruit new volunteers, and build better relationships within the whole MTB sector. A fun part of the campaign is to reward and highlight the individuals and groups who are creating the biggest impact in their local communities and are contributing to positive change in their communities. 

In this article, we will be hearing from the winner of the Youth Trail Advocate of the Year award winner James Blair from Wales.

 

Meet James Blair – Youth Trail Advocate of the Year 2024

When we read applications like the one we received for this year’s Youth Trail Advocate of the Year awards, we know that the future of our trails and wild spaces is in safe hands. James Blair was nominated by the Trail Collective Northern Wales for his consistency and 100% commitment to his local trails – week in, week out. Since James was 14 years old, he has shown up for every organised dig day, whether that be in wind, rain or hail, James is there with a smile on his face, ready to get to work. James is described as caring deeply about the surrounding mountain and forest environments that surround his beloved trails, never missing the opportunity to support Trash Free Trails in their litter pick up days.

We caught up with James through an email exchange to learn a little more about how he got into mountain biking, his work with the Trail Collective and what the future holds for this budding engineer and mountain biker.

 

Firstly, James I just want to say how impressed we were with your application. We’d love to get to know more about you. So let’s start off with how you got into mountain biking, and how you found yourself at a TFT litter pick up in 2021?

I live in a rural village in north Wales. Growing up, as I imagine many did, I was taught to ride a bike by my dad. Once I was confident and somewhat bored of our gravel yard I started riding through local fields and down the steep banks and so forth. This escalated when Tim Ballam, a local MTB coach informed my parents about an MTB course for kids that the local council was running at an outdoor pursuits centre. This was my first true time on mountain bike trails. From this, I met others of my age who were starting to mountain bike. And from there things escalated with new proper bikes and kits, with riding becoming a regular part of my week.

James Blair Youth Trail Advocate of the Year 2024

Kath, who nominated you for the award said you haven’t missed a dig day since!? That’s very impressive. Where does this inner drive and commitment come from?

During the years of covid I spent time at a local spot known as ‘Hendre’ as it was near enough to my house to reach without breaking lockdown rules. After the first year of covid and riding at Hendre weekly to take a break from online learning. I became aware that TFT (Trash Free Trails) was going to be completing a trail clean up within the woods as the area was a victim of littering and fly tipping and so on. Having spent a considerable amount of time there and feeling proud of my local riding spot I decided to attend which unknowingly led to my future involvement in the trails.  

This Trail clean linked me with Kath and others who were on the digging scene at another local riding spot in the Gwydir forest. Having enjoyed the litter pick, and a few occasions digging up my Mums lawn to build some corners. I started attending some unofficial digging sessions. Enjoying the ability to express some creativity and in general being able to blow off some steam swinging mattocks in the wood. From that day onwards I attended any opportunity to dig and maintain trails at one of the locals and later being able to ride the trails and understand the impact the sessions are having. 

 

Do you see yourself pursuing a career in the Trail Building sector in the future? Is this something your generation looks at as a feasible career path?

I am currently studying Design Technology, Maths and Physics with the intention of entering the renewable engineering sector. I do believe there are options in trail building in my future. Currently, with trail building being a big passion for me, I aim to keep it as a hobby. However, if I were to find a way to make it a full time job I would take the opportunity without a doubt in my mind. 

James Blair Youth Trail Advocate of the Year 2024 James Blair Youth Trail Advocate of the Year 2024 James Blair Youth Trail Advocate of the Year 2024

 

How do you think we can get more Youth interested in volunteer trail maintenance and conservation work?

Over the past year I have made extra effort to get more friends my age to join in trail building sessions all of which have since reached out wanting to join on all sessions they can feasibly get to. I believe that the issue with getting more youth trail building is the commitment. Once People like me have their first session and have the ability to ride a section they built on their drive, therefore improving how we get youths on their first dig session would likely lead to more youths digging regularly. This may include getting parents on the side for digging. As my biggest challenge has been getting my parents comfortable with long hours spent digging. Which is a concept alien to them as they do not ride themselves.

 

Any final words of inspiration for the next generation of budding trail maintenance volunteers?

My final words would be just go out and do it. If you don’t know how, find a space and just try and keep trying, or join the local trail builders and learn the trade. Once digging regularly I was teased as being Llyr Williams’s “padawan” as I  was often building with him. Mimicking how he dug. Which is what has led me to be able to create my own trails at a high quality 

Take Care of Your Trails is IMBA Europe’s marquee community trail advocacy campaign. The campaign is held every year during the Spring and is open to all volunteer trail crews in Europe. In 2025 we will be changing things up with the campaign, so keep an eye on our socials and stay informed with the latest news via the IMBA Europe monthly newsletter by signing up here.