View of where the DH trails used to start

The access road is no longer a sea of mud

A few months down the line, and a lot of work has been carried out in the wood. Trees have been felled, the access road has been upgraded, there are new footpath markers in, environmental and Rights of Way surveys are underway, and the site has gone from being neglected - by everyone but mountain bikers - to being actively managed.

At the moment the woods aren't the most appealing place to look at. The University will be addressing this over the next few months and taking steps to clear up the mess from felling and replant some areas.

From our point of view, the best news is that an area is going to be "pencilled in" for mountain biking. It's not definite yet, but it's encouraging.

The current round of work will be drawing to a close around October 2010 so expect a further update then.

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Posted by Antony on Wednesday, 30 June 2010
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We've now met up with the Bristol University and it appears there will be a future for riding at Still, although the woods aren't going to reopen immediately.

In the wake of the closure a lot of work is scheduled for the site, including forestry, improvements to access and an ecological survey. The work is going to continue throughout 2010.

We've been invited to go back to the University once this is completed and discuss terms for using the woods. Things are probably going to start small at first but it's possible that it could be built up into a proper riding venue over time. Any agreement to allow mountain biking there will probably take the form of a short-term licence to begin with, which will be subject to conditions and renewable yearly.

Much of the site work that is planned this year is essential before any future trail building can start. As anyone who used the site regularly knows, the access tracks are in a terrible state for much of the year, and the woodland hasn't been actively managed or surveyed for years. By conducting the work itself, the University is taking on tasks that we would otherwise have to do ourselves. Needless to say, we’d ask that everyone continue to respect the current ban on riding and building, and also any temporary closures of the wood which need to take place due to forestry and ground works.

We'll be keeping in touch with the University and once the current round of work is completed in a few months' time we'll let you know what the score is. Thanks again for all your support!

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Posted by Antony on Wednesday, 17 February 2010
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Photo by Paul Hobbs

On Sunday 29 November we had a public meeting in Long Ashton Community Centre to discuss the future of Still and the issues raised by turning the place into an official riding venue, rather than the secret underground spot it's been for the past few years. The place was packed, with around 40 people in attendance. In the wake of Still being shut down a sort of semi-official campaign committee has come together and me, Rob, Danny and Dan K were in attendance.

The story so far

I started by explaining a bit about the purpose of the meeting and how we were looking to come to a more formal arrangement with the University that would enable us to keep using Still for riding.

Danny has been in touch with the University already and they have said they would be prepared to let riding there continue, subject to certain qualifications such as there only being three main tracks, people only using certain areas of the wood, riders having insurance and no unauthorised trail building.

Club Issues

I explained that the current plan was to form a club and turn Still into a membership venue, as other DH tracks have done in places like Tavistock, Chicksands, Aston Hill and Longleat. It's fair to say that there will be a few issues with this, as it will involve membership fees, setting up a club, and making sure that non-members are politely asked to ride elsewhere.

Club structure is going to depend on how the Uni are prepared to let us run the site. I said that I felt the best thing would be to involve as many riders as possible on the club side, and make sure that all the disciplines of riding at Still were represented - DH, DJ , FR and mountain board. It would also be good to have a position like Youth Rep to involve the younger local riders. We did a quick poll of people in the room to ask who would be prepared to be on the committee of a club, and between ten and twenty said they would.

One problem with forming a club to address the issues with Still is that non-members wouldn't be bound by any ground rules, and worse still wouldn't be covered by third party insurance, which is almost certain to be a condition of us continuing to use the place. Someone asked how we would keep non-members from the using the site. I said that we can make sure everyone knows the score by putting up signs, asking non-members to buy a day or annual membership, and asking our members to have a quiet word with any non-members they see using the place without permission. Woodland Riders at Tavi have a pretty good system where regulars carry a few day membership cards in their pockets, and if they spot a non-member they sell them a day membership on the spot. A general point is that if we really put some effort into the club and the site, it could be a step up from the underground spot it was before, and justify paying to ride there.

Steve Worland from WhatMTB magazine, who does longer distance XC rides through the woods, asked whether any tracks there would be closed to riders who were just passing through. I hope I didn't come across as too much of a weasel in my response to this - basically, there are rights of way (footpaths) crossing the area so we can't close it off completely, but hopefully everyone will understand the reasons for making it a members-only spot and respect that.

Unauthorised building
has been a problem in the past. There used to be a system where riders would OK the stuff they wanted to build with a committee who were in touch with the Uni, but this was a bit confusing at times and eventually fell out of use. The plan is for any new club to have a construction and repair team who do monthly safety inspections and "decommission" any cheeky building at the same time. New building might be pretty limited but at least it will be more organised and not upset landonwers, residents or other riders.

There was a suggestion that approval of new building could be devolved to part of the club, with just an OK from the building committee required. My feeling is that this is pretty close to the old system, which didn't really work very well as people tended to dig first and ask questions later. Other people felt differently.

Membership fees
are a bit of a thorny issue it seems. There are some places, like Chicksands, which charge £50 and up for riding there, but the general feeling seems to be that for a small spot like Still £30 or so is the most a lot of people would pay. I said that we wanted to keep membership fees reasonable and offer day memberships, discounts for youth members, possibly even shop-subsidised memberships for good riders who were hard up.

A representative of mountainboard club Team BAD pointed out that they already have a membership fee that covers stuff like insurance at the spots they use, so paying another separate fee to ride at Still would hit them harder than most. The University club are in the same situation. The obvious solution is for pre-existing clubs to join a Still club as an affiliated body, paying a contribution that covers their members as a whole, and we're going to do some asking around and see if this is possible.

Building and digging

As you will know if you got Danny's Facebook message, the University are talking about limiting the building there to three main tracks. I said I thought that gave us a fair bit of scope - for example, we could have an all-abilities trail, a freeride trail with some big gaps and drops, and a techy DH line. One thing missing from this set-up is dirt jumps that were formerly such a big draw at Still. Nearly everyone at the meeting felt that a range of dirt jumps is an essential ingredient for the place, and that we should be pushing to get these included.

There was some discussion of how the track is going to be planned and built. We have had offers of help from professional trail designers and it might be good to take these up. On the other hand, a user-built site would make people feel involved and there is no shortage of enthusiasm - when asked how many people would be prepared to help with digging, almost every hand in the room went up!

The meeting ended with an agreement that Danny would submit our written proposal to the Uni (this has now happened) and follow this up with a face to face discussion (this hasn't happened yet, but they have promised to get back to us early in the New Year).

This isn't everything we talked about at the meeting, but it covers some of the main points. If you were there and think I've left anything out, drop me an email at bristoltrailsgroup@gmail.com You can also add your comments below. The next stage is actually talking to the Uni and seeing how we can work with them to get the place open for riding again. This is hopefully going to happen early in the New Year, so keep checking this blog and the Facebook group for the latest news.

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Posted by Antony on Sunday, 20 December 2009
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As you may already know, we've drawn up quite a detailed proposal to the University, explaining a bit more about the history of the site, the benefits of keeping it open as a venue for mountain biking and mountain boarding, and how we would address any problems with liability, litter and safety. If you haven't seen it yet, you can have a look here.

This has now been sent to the University's Estates Manager, who has said that he will be discussing it at preliminary talks next week, and will come back to us in the New Year with a decision.

Now seems like a good time to give a shout out to all the people who have helped or supported us in some way:

  • The 1,100-odd people who've signed up to the Facebook group.
  • The other downhill clubs around the country who responded to our request for help and advice - Woodland Riders, Rob at Esher Shore, Cliff Barbeary, Steve from the Woods Behind Nationwide, and Andrew from the Black Canon Collective.
  • Ian from CTC and Chris from IMBA South West for support and advice.
  • The super-helpful people at North Somerset Council.
  • The pro trail builders who've got in touch with offers of help.
  • The local bike shop owners and managers who've supported us - Box at Bad Ass Bikes, Bolt and Adam at Bike Workshop, Lurch at Bike, Robbie and Tony at Psyclewerx and Mart at Mud Dock.
  • Dan, for sorting out the website.
  • The photographers who have allowed us to use their images in the proposal and the website - Pete Tiley, Paul Hobbs and JB.
  • Everyone who came to the meeting at Long Ashton last weekend.
  • Everyone else who's been in touch with ideas, suggestions or just expressions of support.
For now, we'll just have to sit tight and see what the Uni say, but with so many people pulling together to get the place open again, things are looking good.

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Posted by Antony on Friday, 11 December 2009
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UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who came along. It was great to see such a big turnout and there were lots of helpful suggestions and contributions made. I'll put a more detailed write-up on the site this week. In the meantime, if you want to read the draft proposal to the University, click here to see it. If you've got any comments send them to bristoltrailsgroup@gmail.com and we'll try and incorporate them into the final version.

I've booked the Pavilion Room in Long Ashton Community Centre for 2.00 pm Sunday so anyone who's interested can come along and talk about what they'd like to happen at Still, and how they could help with the plan to get it open for mountain biking again.

We've already had loads of good advice, offers of help, and useful feedback from Facebook, online surveys, etc. but there's no substitute for actually meeting up face to face. If you were a regular before the demolition or want to get involved with the re-opening, we'd really like to hear from you.

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Posted by Antony on Monday, 23 November 2009
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Two weeks after the trails at Still were removed, there has been some progress, nothing spectacular yet, but give us time.

First off, we've been flooded with offers of help and support from members of the riding community. Many people have offered to give up their time to help run a formal club, dig new tracks, and so on. A number of professional trail designers and builders have got in touch to offer their services where they can. The CTC's off road officer, Ian Warby, has met with us and given us some really valuable advice, as well making an initial approach to the University.

And we've finished a first draft of our proposal to run the site on a more formal basis, which you can read here if you're interested (748k).

The current word from the Uni is that they have engaged environmental consultants to advise on the developments that are proposed in Long Ashton (you can read more about these here, if you've got a long attention span) and will be asking them to report on the developments at Still as a part of this. So it could be a few months before we hear anything. We'll keep you updated when we know more.

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Posted by Antony on Wednesday, 18 November 2009
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At the start of the week I stuck up a link to a website called SurveyMonkey, which lets you create an online survey. I wanted to get a feel for how much people used Still, what they wanted from the place and whether they would be prepared to keep using it if they had to pay.

The results were pretty encouraging:

  • 36% of the respondents said they rode there most weekends, indicating that we've got a good core of regular users who could look after the place if it was set up as an official venue.
  • An amazing 96% of the replies indicated that they would be willing to join a club, if it meant being able to keep riding there.
  • 97% of the replies said that they would be prepared to pay to ride, with most people saying that between £10-25 was a reasonable figure. Having started to look into the costings, it could be more than this, so we'd also offer discounted membership for junior members, or cheap day membership for people who only ride there a couple of times a year. There's also a possibility that your membership could get you into other venues for free - it's early days yet though.
  • 92% of the people who filled out the survey said they would be prepared to lend a hand with digging and looking after the place.
  • People were also asked what they'd like to see more and less of at Still. About 80% of the respondents said they wanted to have more challenging and technical lines, but 60% of people said they'd like to see more easy and progressive trails too.
  • The biggest complaint was litter, followed by non-riding kids causing trouble. Other users were cited as a problem, but this came a distant fourth overall.
Thanks very much to everyone who responded. I'm planning to add the survey results into our proposal to the University as they paint a clear picture of a riding community who are aware, responsible and not afraid to do a bit of work to keep riding at a spot they love.

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Posted by Antony on Friday, 6 November 2009
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Save Still Woods

On 29 October 2009, Bristol's only purpose-built downhill mountain biking venue, Still Woods, a.k.a the Plantation, was closed to mountain bikers by land owners Bristol University.

Help us work with the University to ensure the woods future as a respected mountain bike venue for all.
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