Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘John Lang’

Evergreen Alliance calls for the question

In Bicycle advocacy, Mountain Biking, Obama Bikes, Trail Access on August 27, 2009 at 7:59 am

The Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, in the midst of member turmoil and a leadership shakeup, has reached out to followers to submit questions and raise concerns before next Tuesday’s Town Hall summit at 6 p.m. at Duthie Hill Lodge. Contact information is on the Evergreen Web site.

“We’ve received a great deal of input already, but I’d like to distill this into the core issues and be sure to cover them next Tuesday,” wrote board member Scott Edison in an e-mail to key Evergreen stakeholders.

Edison also noted there will be a ride at Duthie, where considerable trail work has been done recently, as well as a barbecue with food provided (people should bring their own beverages).

Edison noted the alliance already has received “a great deal of input,” including postings on the Yahoo! e-mail list as well as privately circulated group e-mails. Issues raised concern leadership, communication and advocacy, particularly on the wilderness front.

Some key points still to be addressed include:

Will John Lang, whose unexpected resignation takes effect on Tuesday, be replaced? As executive director, Lang oversaw progress on several fronts, particularly in reaching out to other trail groups and agencies. But paid talent comes at some expense, and the alliance is facing considerable financial challenges by the end of the year.

If Lang is replaced, how much will the membership be informed of the process and be able to provide input into the selection? Lang’s appointment in the spring of 2008 came as a surprise to the rank and file, in part because he was unknown in the mountain biking community. Whatever expertise and connections he brought to the job were overshadowed by questions over how much personal investment he had in the sport.

Fundraising: A crash fundraising appeal to members brought in $37,000 recently, but despite belt-tightening, finances remain a concern. Several ideas for fundraisers along the lines of organized rides and events have been suggested by members.

Communication: It’s been suggested that alliance leadership participate more in the Yahoo list and be more aggressive in inviting members to participate in decision-making, including attendance at board meetings. Interactive features on the Web site also could be a plus.

A new forum, GotSingletrack.com, has been started by Evergreen regulars Tim Banning and Erik Alston. Although not specifically an alliance endeavor, the forum addresses mountain biking issues and could play a strategic role in airing issues to a wider public.

The forum software also enables threaded discussions and archiving by topic as well as other features not possible in a Yahoo group.

Finally, what to do about alienated long-time members remains a pressing concern for the alliance. Several active and well-known BBTC icons have said they feel excluded and unwanted by club leadership. Drawing their expertise, networking capabilities, rolodex and popularity back into the mix has been raised as a key initiative facing the alliance.

A review of other issues in our report of July’s tumultuous board meeting.

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Change is afoot, er, apedal, at Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance

In Bicycle advocacy, Mountain Biking, Obama Bikes, Trail Access on August 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm

The Puget Sound region’s leading mountain bike club, the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, is undergoing some Obama-like “change you can believe in” as a result of membership turmoil we reported on last month.

The latest shocker: Executive director John Lang is resigning as of Sept. 1. Lang’s arrival in the spring of 2008 marked a sharp change of direction for the organization then known as the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club. Lang put a stamp of professionalism on the club, liaisoning it with other user groups and forest administrative agencies while also shepherding mtb projects like Colonnade (a huge publicity win for the club), Paradise Valley and Duthie Hill.

Announcing Lang’s departure with “great regret,” Evergreen president Jennifer Lesher noted that during his tenure “We have attained a seat on the Washington DNR’s Sustainability Work Group and an appointment to the Snoqualmie Unit Advisory Committee. We have worked with the Mountains to Sound Greenway, State Parks, and Snohomish County, Kent, and Redmond. John’s leadership and hard work were key in establishing these positions.”

But Lang is not a mountain biker, a factor that led him to become a lightning rod for discontent over club policies starting with the surprise name change (which was under way before he took office). He also failed to communicate with the membership, which saw him as detached and aloof, even as his political acumen made measurable progress with previously antagonistic or uncooperative sectors.

We at BikeIntelligencer believe Lang was making the right moves, but without buy-ins from the membership. A better communicator would have explained what he was up to and done the political spade work to create ownership at the member level.

Since July’s board meeting, Lesher and Jon Kennedy, program director, have been actively seeking input on the club’s future direction, meeting and speaking with a number of longtime members. Jen’s take in an e-mail posted on Evergreen’s Yahoo! list:

“The Board of Directors is working to devise a plan for the immediate and
long term future of the organization. We have some critical decisions to
make about how we’re going to allocate our resources and prioritize our
obligations, but please rest assured that we plan to honor our commitments,
goals and mission.”

The turmoil within Evergreen comes at a strategic juncture for the sport of mountain biking. Even as the sport explodes among youth, especially teenagers, agencies and other trail user groups are expressing concern over the growth in unauthorized (again, we avoid the term “illegal” as inapplicable in trail administration) construction and riding. In Canada there is no problem, so the kids (groms) watch the DVDs and go to Whistler and NorthShore and see what’s possible and want it in their back yards. They don’t know how to work the system and in any case do not want to wait for bureaucracy to act. In the meantime, veteran mtbers take the heat from their trail peers for things they have nothing to do with (but may wholeheartedly support!); like what adult ever stopped kids from building things — treehouses, forts, skateparks and so on down the line.

Thus “advocacy” becomes the stepchild of “recreation,” creating a dualistic mission for a group like Evergreen.

It all sets the stage for a lively “Town Hall” summit meeting on Tuesday, September 1 at Duthie Hill near Issaquah. It looks like there will be riding before and/or after, as well as a barbecue and festive atmosphere to keep the mood upbeat and positive. See you there!

Members question direction of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance

In Bicycle advocacy, Mountain Biking, Obama Bikes on July 29, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Can a professionally run mountain bike organization also be a socially vibrant club?

Or, as one Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance member put it at a sometimes painfully frank board meeting Monday evening, “Are we turning ourselves into a fund-raising group for mountain biking or are we a mountain biking organization that needs to raise funds?”

Drawing a number of Evergreen’s “old guard” — longtime members who carried over from the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club (BBTC) days — the board meeting bared some long-simmering concerns over the direction of Evergreen and raised some new questions about the future of the group.

The genesis for the airing was discussions at the Kettle Crest gathering recently, as well as Evergreen’s grim financial picture. A number of issues also were raised in a posting by Len Francies to the Yahoo! list, which Tim Banning, Bob Hollander and others picked up on.

Then there’s the money outlook. Discussions about the need to strengthen the organization led to the hiring of a club executive director and staff to represent Evergreen’s interests in the larger community. Despite criticisms over an abrupt and uncommunicated name change, things rolled along pretty well, with the Colonnade project in particular netting local and national publicity for Evergreen. Improved access to Snoqualmie Middle Fork Trail, Duthie Hill, Paradise Valley and the projected Olallie network also proceeded.

When the economy began to tank, however, Evergreen ran into tall budget problems — hardly unique to it, of course, but daunting nonetheless. At Monday’s meeting, executive director John Lang reported that an emergency summer capital campaign (composed of board-matched grassroots funding) had raised an eye-popping $37,000, again a first for Evergreen.

But…some of that money is still in pledge form, and the club continues to lose funding it counted on from other sources. Lang particularly cited support from bike manufacturers and vendors. Big names like Specialized, Trek, SRAM and others, suffering in the current economy like everyone else, have thrown what philanthropy they still have available into the IMBA pot. Evergreen’s argument that it supplies many of the services of IMBA at the local level, and therefore needs separate funding, so far has not made inroads with these supporters.

Bottom line, literally: Evergreen probably has funding to carry it through the end of the year. Beyond that, things look dicey.

In the context of uncertain financial outlook, several speakers suggested that Evergreen should focus on strengthening itself internally first so that a unified front and energized volunteer membership can help evangelize to the larger community.

Several challenges were cited:

1. Alienated veteran members, some of which have left Evergreen altogether, need to be re-welcomed.

2. Volunteerism needs a way to function. Bob Bournique noted that two dropped projects this year, a Poker Run and 24-hour ride, could have been pulled off with volunteers, and could have raised money for Evergreen, had they not been cancelled by leadership. Bournique also noted that volunteers have “nowhere to go” in the current organizational hierarchy of the group, where they could be providing secondary and tertiary leadership roles.

3. More communication, and a different style of communication, is needed. Participation by leadership and board members on the Yahoo! group, use of Twitter and Facebook and other Web tools could enhance visibility with members and the general public. When issues are raised on the Yahoo! list, leadership needs to get involved.

Board members countered that leadership has tried to improve communications via Web announcements on the Evergreen site, and an e-mail newsletter. (Apparently the newsletter doesn’t reach all members, which Jen Lesher acknowledged correctly as a “database problem.”) But “announcements” are different from “give and take,” one member noted. Tim’s great suggestion: Set up an Evergreen online forum (which is quite different from a Yahoo! group).

A suggestion was made to publish minutes of board meetings as one way to keep members apprised.

4. Evergreen leaders need to get out on rides. Bob mentioned that there is member sensitivity to the fact that John is “not a mountain biker.” Whatever John’s leadership qualities are, and no one seemed to impugn them, it is in fact unusual to have the titular leader not emerge from the community. How big of an issue this is to general membership is open to question, and board members are of course active riders.

5. What happened to the ride calendar? Hardly any of the big weekend rides that used to crowd the calendar this time of year are making it onto the Web site. A lot of group riding has gone off-list, partly because the membership is fragmented and there is no way for new to merge with old.

My take: Much of Evergreen’s current straits can be blamed on the evolution of mountain biking in general. There’s a nation-wide movement to unify trail user groups — call it multipartisanship — in hopes of improving access for all. The Mountaineers and Washington Trails Association went through similar spasms as they became more “professional,” and the name change to Evergreen sprang in part on a need to “legitimize” the club in the eyes of government agencies, public forums and other user groups. Len Francies pointed out on a positive note in the Monday meeting that the name change has resulted in “instant recognition” of Evergreen where before BBTC was a head-scratcher to most of the public.

But while professionalism is a necessary step, it doesn’t have to be at the exclusion of the fun part of mountain biking: The riding. There are plenty of examples of successful mtb organizations which also do lots of advocacy, trail work, public volunteering and other outreach, while still getting in regular rides together.

What struck me, listening to Monday’s discussion, is that on a macro level the club is feeling its way through the Obama revolution, where fund-raising relies less on Big Money than on many modest contributions from many sources raised through social networking tools, and where communication must flatten to peer-to-peer, rather than an Olympian “thus shall it be” approach.

Is it in the DNA of Evergreen to adopt a flatter, more networked approach? In post-meeting discussions, I found people focusing on that question. The membership will have another shot at addressing these and other issues at the end-of-August board meeting, being dubbed a Town Hall, time and place yet to be formalized. We’ll keep you posted, and in the meantime don’t be shy about raising the noise level on the list and elsewhere!

“I see we have a lot of passion,” Jen said at the close of Monday’s meeting. “That tells me we have incredible energy and enthusiasm to work with.”