Trail Advocacy: Niels Grether’s “Flow Trail” – Part I

Many folks are eager to jump in and contribute to their local cycling communities, however, most don’t know where to start or feel it to be a daunting and unattainable task. Recently in San Luis Obispo—home of Art’s Cyclery, numerous bicycle advocacy groups, and an incredible network of trails—we had the pleasure of witnessing the opening of another great trail for public use. This one’s called the “Flow Trail,” and is the brainchild of Neils Grether, who decided to build this trail as part of his Senior Project at Cal Poly. In hopes of delivering a little inspiration to those wanting to be more involved with their local bike advocacy groups and trail building, we caught up with Neils to ask him a few questions about how this whole “trail building” thing works and what it takes to make a dream become a reality.

Scotty: How did your Flow Trail come about? Was it something that you had wanted to do for a while, or was there a prompt for building it?

I wanted to do my Senior Project on something that would benefit both myself and the San Luis Obispo community. I’m really interested in preventing user conflict and the idea of building a one-way, mountain bike-only trail to divert users away from multi-use trails arose out of that.

Scotty: How did you decide on a spot to build your trail?

I decided on the location at the top of Poly Canyon for a number of reasons. The Stenner Flow trail sits on top of a parcel that is owned by the city. The fact that the trail’s location is under one owner makes permitting much easier and the city is easier to work with and get in touch with than USFS, State Parks, and probably the County. The location was also a prime candidate due to increased use on the existing elevator trails as a result of the Eucs Freeride Park.

Scotty: What was the first step that you had to take in getting your Flow Trail approved?

I started working with FASTA and Will King. They helped me a lot in the early stages and connected me with Bob Hill (SLO City Land Manager) and Doug Carscaden (SLO City Head Ranger). Will’s help was really valuable in getting the project started.


Scotty: What sort of funding was necessary (if any at all)? And if so, how much was needed to build this trail?

The city provided funding in Ranger man hours and money (which covered expenses like signs, tools, and miscellaneous unforeseen stuff). The City, CCCMB, and FASTA provided tools and lots of volunteer hours. Cash expenses were probably $1,000-$2,000. I’d have to check my calendar to know for sure, but the City probably supplied 400 Ranger man hours, which costs between $8,000-$12,000…maybe more.

Scotty: What were the avenues that you had to go through in order to permit and approve your trail?

The Permitting process was much less formal than I expected.  I gave them a fairly lengthy write up and a map of the trail, but what it really came down to was walking the trail with Bob and Doug.  The process took, I guess, about 10 months, which is actually quite fast; the city is quite supportive of trails.  From my end it was a lot of waiting and a little pestering of folks at the City with emails.  I think my involvement with FASTA and CCCMB went a long way towards approval too.  Having the Greg Bettencourt stamp of approval I think made a big difference.


Scotty: Was the general process of getting approval and is trail advocacy in general a hard thing? Or did you find it was more simple and straightforward than you’d expected?

The fact that the process was fairly informal was much more my style, but made it harder in some respects.  There was no clear direction for what I was doing, it wasn’t like there was a form that I filled out and submitted, then got approved or denied.  I did the write up basically making it up as I went along, then after meeting with Doug and Bob, I kept having to brainstorm and think, “OK, what do I do now?”   I’m pretty sure CCCMB and FASTA were doing some advocacy behind the scenes that I wasn’t really party to as well.  So my involvement with them I think really helped.

Scotty: Did you ever need to rally people behind you to get a push for this project?

It just sort of happened naturally as I got more involved with the clubs.

Scotty: How long has the overall planning and permitting phase taken you?

I sort of decided I wanted to do the project when I began my final year at Cal Poly SLO in September 2013.  I started getting in contact with people and getting things moving around December.  I think I met with Doug and Will around then and talked about the general idea.  I guess you could say that was the beginning of the permitting process.  We broke ground on March 18th, so that would be 15 months, although that includes 3 months when I was working at a summer camp with patchy internet access and spent about 30 seconds failing to respond to any emails about the trail.