Talking IMBA with Jenn Dice

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Jenn Dice might be the dirtiest girl in Washington, D.C.—at least, when it comes to biking. Her politics? Relatively clean, she claims, and as the government affairs director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) her agenda is crystal clear. “We’re trying to make sure you have a great place to ride close to home,” says the 38-year-old who’s been riding knobby tires since 1998. Why does she work so hard so you can ride? Read on:

What does IMBA actually do?
In addition to lobbying local and national policy makers, we’ve been successful building literally hundreds of miles of trails all over the U.S. that are open to mountain bikes. We’re a great partner with land managers: raising money, building community support, and bringing the expertise and manpower required to build sustainable and fun trails.

Why is advocacy important?
Especially with mountain biking, it’s exciting to be part of a movement or campaign that’s bigger than yourself and your individual ride because our power is in our political clout and numbers. That’s what I take to elected officials: How many people does IMBA represent in their district? If it’s only a few, they won’t take me seriously, but if I can show that I represent big numbers of cyclists, we have the numbers to really affect change.

How does one mountain-biker make a difference?

Seriously, the best way to help is to join a local club and IMBA.

What are the biggest issues or objectives for mountain bike advocates these days?
At IMBA, one of the biggest objectives we’ve had is to open trials in the national parks. Just a few years ago, there wasn’t much mountain biking in any parks, but now there are 44 parks that have cycling—22 have singletrack and 22 have dirt roads that are open to bikes. The goal is to get people out of their cars and experiencing their national park, but the challenge is that some of the old-guard park supporters aren’t OK with bicycles. For us, it’s about connecting Americans with the great outdoors, making parks relevant to today’s youth and giving visitors a way to enjoy these amazing places.

How did you begin riding?
I started riding about 13 years ago when my boyfriend at the time introduced me to it. I’ve been riding more seriously for about 11 years. After the boyfriend and I broke up I signed up for my first race to ride the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race which was my intro into hard-core biking and my excuse to get over my crush. Fear is a great motivator and 103 miles is a long way to ride. I still love that race and next year will be my 12th time doing it.

Have you had a chance to ride any of the National Park Trails yet?

Come to think of it, not many. I’ve ridden the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands, Saguaro National Park in Tuscon, and Fort Dupont Park near Washington, D.C. Fort Dupont is an oasis of forest in the heart of inner-city D.C. with 8 miles of singletrack. Our IMBA club there has a program to kids onto the trails and as many as 15 kids show up every Monday to go mountain biking. It’s an incredible story.

The issue with national parks is they are considered the most prized places in America and many state and local land managers aspire to have public lands that are similarly protected and managed. These state and local managers take queues from the national parks. If policies at national parks are anti-bike, then there is a trickledown effect to the state and local level. Even if you don’t have a national park near you, when national park policies are anti-bike, it affects access in other places. We know bicycle access, both on road and off, can be a great thing for national parks.

Are there hotspots in terms of bike advocacy and trail access that IMBA is working on this year?
We are the watchdog group to convince land managers to keep trails open, so we’re always looking for those places where we can bring our legal acumen, political clout, manpower, money, and resources to convince the National Park Service, National Forest Service, or individual communities and landowners to keep trails open, or in many cases to improve and expand them. We’re always watching for places where bike access is being challenged and there are plenty that are: Lake Tahoe; Montana; the Continental Divide; Sun Valley, Idaho; Marin County, California; National Forests in Georgia; an IMBA Epic in West Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland, and many others. We just created our Public Land Initiative campaign websites at imba.com/pli where local cyclists can join campaigns in their state

What about new trails?
This year we also added 6 trails to our list of IMBA Epic Trails—the best of the best rides that every mountain biker should put on their must-do list. Our IMBA Epics are a mix of iconic, pristine, freeride, downhill and cross-country that we designate every year. We’re always looking for that next great place that we can turn into a mountain bike destination.

What exactly do you do for IMBA?
I direct all of the organization’s government affairs. I’m in Washington at least once a month and we help to organize and co-host the National Bike Summit March 8-11, 2011. We co-host the event with the League of American Bicyclists and it brings almost 1,000 people together in D.C. to lobby for mountain biking and bicycle transportation.

IMBA’s biggest initiative right now is called our Public Lands Initiative which promotes bicycle-friendly land designations. Cyclists care deeply about the land around their trails and wanting to have clean air, clean water and protect the land for future generations. But some groups think protecting the land has to be at the expense of bicycle access. We disagree and are organizing our IMBA clubs and the bike industry to both protect the land and allow for continued cycling.

What about kids? Is IMBA doing anything to interest the next generation of mountain bikers?
We have an event called “IMBA’s Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day.” It is the first Saturday of October and last year we had more than 21,000 kids out for this celebration of cycling. Congress has commemorated the day. We have 750 bike clubs and we encourage them to host programs and get kids out onto trails. We also partner with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) which is growing participation and competition at the high-school level in Colorado, California, and next year in Texas, Minnesota, and Washington. They hope to be coast-to-coast by 2020.

Last modified: February 2, 2012

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