The Hometown Hero for Mountain Bike Trails in Wilmot, Wisconsin


“I’ve been living in a mosquito net fixing culverts all week,” mentioned J.T. Robinson more than speakerphone by way of the aforementioned mesh headwear. “But I get to leave early right now to meet some volunteers to function on mountain bike trails at Silver Lake.” 

Robinson was unceremoniously digging by way of mud, managing trail erosion and dodging West Nile in the barely perceptible rolling hills about his hometown of Wilmot, Wisconsin. Erosion management is not glamorous, and Robinson wasn’t artfully crafting some shreddable berm or lofty tabletop. He was up to his ankles in grimy runoff stacking rocks so water from an intermittent stream flowed neatly by way of a corrugated pipe. 

Not so lengthy ago, trails higher than this 1 lured Robinson from his Midwestern hometown to larger mountains out West, following a path effectively-trod by skiers, raft guides, climbers and lots of other outside enthusiasts. However, following a dozen years living in Utah and adventuring some of the planet’s most iconic mountain ranges, Robinson located his way back to the topographic doldrums of youth in 2018. He dreams of transforming Wilmot, Wisconsin, into a mountain bike location, like Fruita, Colorado, or Bentonville, Arkansas. But it requires a lot additional than digging a couple new trails in the woods to build the subsequent fat-tire hot spot. Carrying out so demands cultivating an ardent, interconnected neighborhood centered about mountain biking although constructing the infrastructure to assistance a vibrant regional economy. Place that way, battling a handful of thousand mosquitos sounds like the simple component.

“I’m a organic born rambler, which has taken me to all corners of the planet, but Wisconsin will normally be my house,” mentioned Robinson. “I realized the greatest present I can bring back to the location that is offered so substantially to me and my household is a vision for a sustainable future, 1 primarily based on outside recreation.” 

In Utah, Robinson was a experienced skier and guide. He went to Weber State for college and was as well enamored with the landscape to leave. He’s had epic adventures by way of Alaskan peaks, Japanese volcanoes and the Austrian Alps—big mountains compared to Wilmot’s ski hill with a paltry 200 vertical feet. For the duration of all that wandering, nevertheless, Robinson noticed the very best trails are not normally the ones with the most vertical. 

Southeast Wisconsin is house to a lot of densely forested, rolling terrain for punchy climbs and descents like Robinson had encountered at Phil’s Trail in Bend, Oregon, or at Phil’s Planet Trail in Cortez, Colorado. With ample moisture in the dirt generating for a fantastic constructing and riding surface, Robinson figured motivated trailbuilders could eke just about every final nuance out of the obtainable landscape. Till not too long ago, although, there weren’t any mountain bike trails to speak of, let alone a group of locals devoted adequate to donate a rainy afternoon operating on them.

A portrait of JT Robinson wearing a bike helmet while riding trails in Wisconsin

Rider: J.T. Robinson | Photo Credit: Kyle Weiher

Christine Robinson, J.T.’s adventure companion and wife, was similarly enchanted with the postcard-top quality outside life style of living in the Wasatch. But she felt compelled to bring elements of her adopted life style back to her roots. “When we began considering about children, we’re saying, ‘It requires a village.’ And what improved village than the 1 exactly where we’re from?” mentioned Christine. “We had to leave to chase the life style we wanted, and hopefully our children will not have to. We have the possibility to be component of the modify we want to see.”

In 2017, just before moving back to Wisconsin complete time, Robinson spent a portion of the summer season living with his parents although clearing land he and Christine had bought so they could sooner or later construct a house. Robinson had worked challenging to establish a viable outside guiding profession in Utah, which he’d initially hoped to parlay into an analogous company in Wisconsin, taking men and women hiking, biking and paddle boarding in the location. Although conducting a bit of exploratory study, he stumbled across a Facebook group for the pioneering volunteer organization—now named the Kenosha Region Mountain Bike Association (KAMBA)—which had painstakingly constructed a handful of miles of singletrack mountain bike trails at Silver Lake Park. Needing an escape from lumberjacking in the oppressive Midwestern humidity, Robinson grabbed his bike and went to verify out the trails for himself. 

“I rode the complete trail technique that day. There may not have been substantially mileage, but the trails have been flowy and quickly, and I was just absolutely fired up to be ripping by way of the woods,” he mentioned. Sweaty and excited to be riding such fantastic trails in his hometown, Robinson created his way back to the trailhead. There, he recognized two leaders in the volunteer trail-constructing neighborhood, Amy Andrews-Paylietner and her husband, Tom, from a photo on the web site. “I was virtually shouting at these men and women I’d in no way met,” he mentioned. “‘You created it probable for me to move house!’ To have access to even just a couple trails adjustments all the things, and I knew there was chance for so substantially additional.”

The Andrews-Paylietners introduced Robinson to Matt Collins, the Kenosha County Parks Director. “I believe I startled him a small bit with how enthusiastic I was,” Robinson mentioned. “I jumped appropriate in with these ambitious suggestions: trail builders, guiding permits, marketing and advertising and web site promotion. Matt was supportive, but he was like ‘Whoa, slow down. We will need to stroll just before we can run.’” In Kenosha all these factors required to be constructed from the ground up, which requires time. 

“We have a gem of a park technique right here, but it is normally a function in progress,” Collins mentioned. “J.T. had a lot of power and excitement. His mindset as an sector experienced who’d noticed trail systems all more than the planet got me considering about how he could assistance us gear our efforts toward possessing lengthy-lasting effect.”

Robinson got to function volunteering with KAMBA and constructing the Heartland Outside Adventure web site to establish an on-line presence. “Without great access to facts you can not foster development, so I began there,” mentioned Robinson. He relied on his practical experience from living out West—where the outside-obsessed population is steeped in the language and culture of mountain sports—to bring an genuine voice and credibility to the web site advertising Kenosha’s small-recognized outside assets.

Robinson was nonetheless periodically traveling for guiding function and mulling what his experienced life would appear like back in Wisconsin. “I was guiding a trip in Japan when I got a contact from Matt Collins,” Robinson mentioned. “From all the way across the globe he tells me about a new position to handle all the trail systems and new trail projects inside Kenosha County and asked if I was interested in the job.” 

“J.T. definitely opened our eyes to how to strategically map out priorities,” Collins mentioned. “He was searching at trail upkeep and improvement from a holistic point of view, whereas just before we  have been definitely so focused on it from an operations standpoint.” Robinson jumped at the possibility to lastly pair his ample power with some tangible sources. Guiding is 1 way to introduce people to the outdoors, but as trails coordinator Robinson would assistance outline what the future of outside recreation would imply to the whole neighborhood.   

“We’d like to be the envy of our area when it comes to recreational possibilities,” mentioned Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser. “We place an emphasis on factors like trail systems and parks mainly because we know they play a significant component when corporations determine exactly where to find and men and women pick exactly where to reside.” Robinson will travel to Bentonville in October for an IMBA Trail Lab conference to discover from the authorities, but he currently has his function reduce out for him at house this summer season.  

New singletrack improvement is underway beneath the dense forest canopies and along lakeside meadows at KD and Petrifying Springs Parks, which indicates Robinson is out battling the rain, the humidity and the bugs although flagging trees, tamping down dirt and stacking rocks to retain these important erosion handle measures up to spec. Kenosha County not too long ago entered a 50-year land-use agreement with the University of Wisconsin Parkside to handle and construct trails on 139 acres owned by the university. Extended just before tools are scheduled to hit the dirt, Robinson’s been placing in the hours behind a desk, poring more than maps to outline what the area’s going to appear like. Even though substantially of the initial function has been focused on enhancing and keeping current trail, Kenosha County leadership has set a aim of rising their network to 60 or 70 miles of mountain bike singletrack inside a couple years. 

The county funds new trail projects—an investment Kreuser, Collins and Robinson are confident will spend off with a increase to the regional economy—and has partnered with Good Lakes Trailbuilders to undertake some of the heavy lifting. Robinson—a firm proponent of the “no dig, no ride” ethos to constructing a mountain bike community—regularly recruits volunteers and organizes neighborhood dig days on-line by way of KAMBA and Heartland Outside Adventure. Irrespective of whether alongside experienced trailbuilders or volunteers, Robinson is out there, shovel in hand. “J.T. puts his head down and gets dirty just about every day,” Collins mentioned. “We definitely worth his administrative understanding, but he brings a physicality to the job and the capability to lead a group of people.” 

“When I grew up, the outside scene in Wisconsin was just hunt, camp and fish. We’re delivering an avenue for men and women to get in touch with nature in a way they haven’t had access to just before,” Robinson mentioned. “I want to see a bike on the back of just about every car or truck, and I know how substantially challenging function it is going to take to get there. If we can get the neighborhood engaged, we’ll see the complete location lighting up with trail systems.”

At a neighborhood meeting about trail expansion possibilities in late spring, a man in his sixties who’d not too long ago retired from a profession in teaching approached Robinson to inform him how excited he was to choose up mountain biking at his rather sophisticated age. “He kept going on and on about how fantastic his resting heart price is mainly because he’s out on the trails just about every day,” Robinson mentioned with a chuckle. The interaction exemplifies what Robinson’s located most rewarding all through this transition back house: the life style improvement he’s witnessed for men and women in Kenosha County.

“Of course I miss specific factors about living out West. You can not compete with the landscape,” Robinson mentioned. “But this location is so particular to me and my household. My wife and I have been raised right here, and our households reside right here. I’m so grateful to be capable to do my component in constructing my hometown into a location we can share with our children, and they can practical experience this outside life, lived in harmony with nature, household and close friends. It is a present that is not lost on me.” 


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