Reclamation: Oneonta Trail Features of a Bygone Era

Confession: Before I adopted the sustainable trail building practices I advocate for today, I played witness to (and *allegedly* even participated in) the construction of some substandard technical trail features (TTFs).

When I moved to Oneonta in late 2007, the city had a small, but growing mountain bike scene. At the time, there was a core group of riders let by community advocate and phys ed department chair at SUNY Oneonta, Al Sosa.

A mere year or two earlier, SUNY Oneonta’s Student Association had approved a submitted proposal for a mountain bike club. Around that same time, a group of technically skilled riders took to the woods with a limited number of tools and began laying the groundwork for some of the more technical features we have today.

While area riders currently enjoy a number of well constructed bridges, boardwalks, kickers, rock gardens and even tabletops – there was a time before McLeods and bench cuts and bow saws and shovels. A time when a folding saw and a hammer was all a fella had to work with.

The technical trail features built and ridden during those years can only be considered “janky” by anyone’s standards. Riders yearned for more technical stuff, so that’s what they built. While those features might have been passable when they were brand new, no one was deluded into thinking they’d last forever.

The last 8 years have seen a startling advancement not only in the number of local trails, but also in the diversity of styles and the quality of construction. The technical (and often secretive) features of yore were abandoned in favor of newer and better built routes. Some features were disassembled while others were left to rot, slowly reclaimed by the earth until their mere presence was a distant memory.

I recently revisited the area and was compelled to deep dive some of these older features that only myself and a handful of others would even remember, in order to bring light to the past and document the reclamation.

WARNING: While most of these features are quite well hidden and unlikely to be discovered, if you do come upon one, realize that none of them are in any sort of rideable condition. I contemplated removing them (for safety’s sake) more than once, but instead, decided to leave them as a monument to what used to be.

WARNING #2: The mountain bike gear & fashion choices in these photos reflect a limited budget and early understanding of the sport. It ain’t pretty, by any means.

College Camp teeter totter

Top: 2008 origins. Middle: 2015 remains. Bottom: Current structure.

I’ll take some ownership of this one… J.E. decided he wanted a teeter totter, so he built one and I helped. The result was a big log section for a fulcrum, a pair of deadfall saplings as runners and a bunch of narrower pieces as rungs.

This one was right out in the open and not long after, it was deemed hazardous and replaced by the much more resilient model seen at the bottom. What’s left is a chunk of log with a runner nailed to it. A tribute to humble beginnings.

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J.B. built this exceptionally well-hidden skinny and for a long time he was the only one to dare riding it. That same year several of the rungs broke and now, a much larger fallen tree has permanently sealed its fate.

College Camp stick ladder

Top: Riding in 2008. Bottom: As it appears today.

This one was just a stick ladder built over a rock wall at the end of some doubletrack. Above: Myself *barely* clearing it. Below: If you don’t know where to look, you might never find it.

Powerlines rock drop Oneonta

Eyes on the rock.

To the average Joe, this was just a rock cliff. To one particular rider, it was a drop. Legend has it that his handlebars broke on the landing, although we may never know.

Sam Brown Shaklee Oneonta log ride

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I also had a hand in this, and if there’s a feature that has a chance of being saved, it’s this one. This storm-felled tree left the perfect opportunity for us to build a log ride. The rungs leading into it have since pulled up from their anchors.

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A rider traverses tight steep drop in 2008.

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Tight? No. Steep? Definitely not. Drop? Not in the slightest.

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An overgrown and non-intimidating “tight steep drop.”

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Hard to tell this was ever a trail.

While this feature had limited construction involved, we referred to this section as “Tight Steep Drop,” despite the fact that it is neither tight, nor steep, nor a drop. It has since been overgrown and passed up in favor of much-larger, video-worthy features.

As newer, more sustainable, purpose-built trails are constructed in Oneonta, these and other rustic features will continue to fade into obscurity – relics of a bygone era. And who can complain? The new stuff is phenomenal and exactly what the region needs. Nevertheless, the rugged few who carried hammers, nails, and folding saws into the woods will always know what took place in those early years, and the struggles associated with laying the groundwork for a network of dozens of miles of singletrack. Pioneers, we tip our hats.

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