Sometime during the month of September the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WOCA) reached a major milestone, signing up its 1,500 th member. That bested the association's previous record by around 250 members, cementing the association's status as the biggest mountain bike club in the world.
It's just one more thing that WORCA has had to celebrate this season, along with its 20 th anniversary, the opening of new trails, a federal grant to build and maintain trails and improvements in almost every department.
For WORCA president Todd Hellinga, who is stepping down after two years. the 1,500 member landmark (actually 1,514 members at press time) is significant for a lot of reasons.
"That's something I'm really excited about, after hovering around 1,100 riders the past three or four years," he said. "I think for a long time people only related to WORCA for the Toonie Rides, but this year we really concentrated on showing that we're about a lot more than that, and people responded. If anything I think Toonie Race numbers are probably down a little bit this year, but that didn't hurt us obviously. I think people are realizing that races are not our only focus."
The weekly Toonie Rides continue to be a big draw for the association, but it's not the only reason that people sign up. The Wild Willies Rides, WORCA's youth dirt camps and clinics, Whistler Blackcomb's Phat Wednesday series, and sanctioned events like the Four Jacks, West Side Wheel Up, Worcapalooza and the Ken Quon Memorial Ride all contributed new members to the organization this year. As well, other riders make a point of registering every year purely to support the trails.
Part of WORCA's mandate is to maintain trails on public lands, or to work with stakeholders. Recently the association has undertaken several trail building projects to compensate for lost trails and development, to link existing trails, and to bring older trails up to new standards for safety and erosion control.
This season the association has celebrated the completion of Get Over It, a volunteer project that connected Bob's Rebob to Mel's Dilemma; A La Mode, a singletrack climb on Lower Sproatt that complements the Piece of Cake climb from the previous year; a mostly-volunteer project to reconnect Shit Happens to Alpine Meadows, as well as new sections of Train Wreck and Runaway Train. Billy's Epic has also seen a lot of work to curb erosion and repair sections, and Kill Me Thrill Me has a new piece that cuts out the section of trail over the highway that was eroding.
Part of that work has been accomplished with a grant from the National Trails Council, which provided a matching grant of $25,000 this year to trail work.
"There is a lot of good quality building going on which shows that we have guys that know what they're doing, and they can work fast," said Hellinga. "We can show the federal government, municipality and (Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts) what we did with the money we received this year, how none of the money is wasted on administrative costs, and how much our volunteers contribute."
Local bike guiding companies are also a big part of the success in recent years says Hellinga. Once mistrusted for using local trails and providing nothing in return, all of the companies have contributed volunteer workers to projects in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton this year, as well as supplying vehicles, tools and funding.
"There was a misconception early on that (the companies) use, use, use with not a lot of giving back," said Hellinga. "That's not the case. They're giving back here, in Squamish, helping out the PVTA (Pemberton Valley Trails Association), more than they could ever use. Our trails have actually improved because of their involvement."
WORCA doesn't have any specific plans to capitalize on its 1,500 members, but Hellinga says it will make it easier for the association to apply for grants and lobby on behalf of trails and the mountain bike community. One of WORCA's original mandates to reinstate mountain biking in Garibaldi Park hasn't been fulfilled yet, although Hellinga says they are making progress.
"I would like to see that happen, but it's a long process that involves revisiting the management plan for the park," he said. "There are a few issues that make us reluctant to push as hard as we can. If the province did it for us, gave us access, then others say they would have to do it for them as well, and if that happened maybe it would be better if we didn't get access."
WORCA is hosting its annual general meeting on Thursday, Oct. 22 at Legends in Creekside. The time is still being finalized and will be posted at www.worca.com this week.
Although a handful of board members have shown interest in returning this year, Hellinga is stepping down as president and several other key positions are opening up as well.
All positions are technically up for grabs and voted on by members present at the AGM, but directorships are rarely contested. Hellinga wants to invite members of the bike community to get more involved, and not to be dismayed by the workload - this was the second year that WORCA has hired a paid executive director and that has reduced the administrative burden on volunteer directors.
Positions on the board include president, secretary, treasurer as well as director of race, director of trails, director of planning, director of skills development, director of youth, director of membership, director of PR and director at large. Descriptions for every position are posted on the WORCA website.
In stepping down, Hellinga said it was time for some new blood.
"It wasn't just two years as president, it was a couple of years as membership director, race director. The year I broke my neck I wasn't technically involved but I was pretty involved behind the scenes in a lot of ways," he said. "I just think it's time for some fresh blood and fresh legs to carry on what we've started. I think we've got a good framework right now, every year we pick off a few things that could have been done better and I really do think it's getting smoother all the time even though we're doing more."
Next year WORCA will receive some space in the Austria Passive House at the entrance to Lost Lake, as will the Whistler Nordics. Hellinga says that will make things even easier by providing space to keep all of WORCA's records, host meetings, and store gear like race signs and tents between events.
Hellinga hasn't approached any prospective replacements but isn't worried that his position could remain empty.
"People always step up," he said. "They have a chance to be part of something that's pretty neat and special, there are not a lot of communities in the world that have something like this club to be involved in."
Future WORCA events
Halloween Toonie Ride - Oct. 29
This is not your typical Toonie Ride. It takes place after dark on the Thursday before Halloween, so good quality headlamps and bike lights are a must. The trail is lit by pumpkins and glow sticks, and there are prizes at the end for the best costumes.
More details will be posted online in the coming weeks, but the general idea is the same - 5:30 p.m. registration, 6:30 p.m. start and an après somewhere where people can mingle in their costumes.
Registration depends on the weather, from 150 on the full moon night in 2007 to the 40 riders who turned out for the drench-fest in 2008.