With runners and cyclists constantly in sight and sun-filled skies almost year round, Austin beams with activity. While many are seen running and biking the roads, even more are hidden among the wildflowers and wild oaks on winding Hill Country trails.
Keeping the trails open and safe for the community’s active crowd takes a lot of work, time, and commitment. Enter the Austin Ridge Riders Club.
The Austin Ridge Riders Club is the largest and most dynamic nonprofit mountain bike club in Austin. Founded in 1996, the club now takes care of 11 trail systems in Central Texas. The trails reach as far north as Lake Georgetown Trail, south to the Pedernales Falls State Park Trail, eastward to Walnut Creek Metro Park Trail, and west to Muleshoe Bend Trail. The trails are not just built for biking; they are open for running, hiking, dog walking, and even some horseback riding.
The Ridge Riders’ gift to the community is trail maintenance because of the members’ passion for not just riding but keeping existing trails open and seeing new trails built. Walnut Creek is the most trafficked and highly used of the Ridge Rider trails, and Dr. Rich Szecsy oversees its care. Szecsy, who is also on the club’s board of directors, lives in Dallas but works in Austin during the week. “I was riding my bike at Walnut Creek when I noticed it needed work,” he said. “So I asked someone with Ridge Riders how I could get involved, and they wanted to put me on the leadership side. They made me the trail steward at Walnut Creek.”
The Ridge Riders assign a specific trail steward for each trail under its management. Szecsy, for instance, puts on what is called “Walnut Wednesday.” Every Wednesday from 5 p.m. until dark, a group of 20 to 25 people show up to work on the Walnut Creek trail. “Most people congregate around the [specific segment of] trail they use or like the most. It is like a local tribe that keeps coming back,” Szecsy said.
Last year, Szecsy and his group of dependable volunteers combined for more than 700 hours of trail work at Walnut Creek. The specific work varies; however, it almost always includes cleaning up simple litter, trash, and debris left on the trail by the trail users. Volunteers also trim foliage and overgrowth as well as remove ragweed and other invasive weeds; they also tackle major rehabilitation or erosion-control projects. “We are still fixing damage from the Halloween flood that hit there,” Szecsy said. “It is a constant and daily battle that goes on to keep the trail safe and open.”
In 2013, Szecsy and his team moved—by hand—25,000 pounds of stone to reinforce part of the trail. He explained this was part of the trail that water commonly trickled across and, therefore, often became extremely muddy. To make it safer for trail users, they moved in “armoring stone.”
The members play a fundamental role in keeping the Austin Ridge Riders viable. Currently, there are 200 members, and there is a $20 annual membership fee. But in Austin’s bustling, active, and ever-growing community, there could be more—after all, more people lead to more volunteers, which lead to better trails.
Every year, Ridge Riders puts on two races to generate revenue for their program. They also hold monthly and weekly rides at various trails, and rides for kids on the weekends (called “kid trips”) that never fail to have a tremendous turnout.
“There are a lot of people who believe the same thing we do,” Szecsy said. “We have such a tremendous opportunity to attract people to our course, because this is Austin.”