Mountain bikers who ride at Kickapoo State Recreation Area will find some significant changes this spring to one well-used section of trail.
The trail has been changed to make it easier for riders of different abilities to negotiate, and it is now more sustainable — it was rebuilt to minimize soil erosion and will need less maintenance in the future.
The changes were made with the help of a trail consultant from Trek bicycles. The Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club was one of five clubs or nature preserves in the country to receive consultation services from Dewayne Buratti, a trail consultant with Trek, through a pilot trail-building program. Buratti was at Kickapoo the week of April 19.
It was an opportunity not only to improve the trail but also for club members to learn about how to build trails using sustainable techniques, said Drew Hagen, a member of the club who helped coordinate Buratti’s visit and volunteers to work on the trail.
The mountain-bike club has an agreement with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to build and maintain trails for mountain biking on a section of land at Kickapoo, Hagen said. The area started out with 4 miles of trails in 1993 and has expanded to 15 miles.
But when they started out, club members didn’t know the techniques to build sustainable trails that would minimize the effect on the environment, including controlling soil erosion, Hagen said.
The area being improved — at the intersection of trails 7 and 2b — was built 20 years ago. It’s an area not far from the trailhead, so it gets a lot of use from both novice and experienced bikers. The two trails intersect as they come down into a ravine, and each climbs out of the ravine at a different angle, Hagen said.
The trail has a north-facing slope that doesn’t get direct sunlight and tends to stay wet. Last year, there were mudslides on the trail, Hagen said. The club wanted to improve the design and maintenance of the intersection and solve soil-erosion issues there.
The International Mountain Bicycling Association established standards for sustainable trail-building techniques. Buratti said there are guidelines for the degree of slope of a trail. One of the problems with the trails being improved at Kickapoo, Buratti said, was the slope of the trail was quite steep, with switchbacks.
“They were very old school,” he said.
Water had no place to go but down the trail, resulting in erosion. Once tree roots are exposed, riders manuever around the roots, widening the trail, he said.
Buratti helped build new climbs out of the ravine, eliminating the switchbacks and making “bench cuts” to create a more level surface to ride on with a gentler slope. The uphill side of the trail was cut at an angle of 35 to 45 degrees, rather than 90 degrees, so water can sheet across the trail, rather than flow down it and create erosion.
Buratti also created a trail with lots of dips, so a rider will climb uphill for a while, then come to a short descent before climbing again. He said that design also helps water flow off the trail. And he used natural draws on the hillside to place the trail so water flowed off it more quickly.
The work was done with the help of volunteers, many from the Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club, and with equipment donated by A&R Mechanical Contractors of Urbana.
Hagen said the work done on the trails means club members can spend less time maintaining that trail and put their efforts into improving other trails at Kickapoo.
Buratti didn’t know what to expect of the trail system after seeing the area’s farmland and flat terrain, but he was impressed.
“I was blown away by the amount of elevation. They did a really good job with a lot of the trails,” he said.
He compared Kickapoo to the trail system at Brown County State Park in Indiana, a much larger park with more elevation that Buratti described as “an epic trail in the Midwest. People come from all over to ride it.
“This place (Kickapoo) compares fairly well to Brown County as far as potential,” Buratti said. “The ride flows well in lots of areas. In other areas, it needs some work.”
Hagen said Buratti gave the club ideas they had never considered for improving the trails. His experience “really brought a big difference.”
Photos: Top: Volunteers Ted Kissel of Greencastle, Ind., left, and Aaron Higley of Champaign work on a new section of trail at Kickapoo State Recreation Area near Oakwood last month. Bottom: Trek consultant Dewayne Buratti cuts a new section of trail at Kickapoo State Recreation Area. Photos by Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette.