▶️ The Great Outdoors: The Central Oregon Trail Alliance


Have you ever wondered how the hundreds of miles of mountain bike trails around Central Oregon get built?

Is it just a few people who go out in the woods with some shovels and beers? Think again.

The Central Oregon Trail Alliance, also known as COTA, is celebrating 30 years of building mountain bike trails

The volunteer-driven, non-profit organization has built and maintains 500 miles of trails that flow through the mountains and forests around Central Oregon.

“We don’t have any assured funding. We are funded entirely by donation. We have three full-time staff. We log 14,000 hours of volunteer time in addition to staff. It’s just a huge effort,” said Emmy Andres, COTA Executive Director.

“Everybody who takes some time to come and work on the trails, they see how fun it is and how much work it takes to take care of the trails. We really appreciate people taking the time to give back to the trails they love.”

Brooke Snavely caught up with COTA volunteers during the organization’s Fall Trail Love event. 

A hundred volunteers split up into small groups and worked with experienced trail technicians to fix trouble spots on trails in the forest west of Bend.

“What’s occurring to me is all the artistry that goes into developing and maintaining the trails out here,” said Spencer Moersfelder, COTA Volunteer. 

“It’s easy to ride by and not see all the subtleties of all the trail work that goes into it. I’m learning a few things today about how to shape trails to help the water move off to the side and not pool and keep the trails in shape for the folks who are riding today and for the next year or so we hope.”

RELATEDHundreds flock to Hydro Flask Seconds Sale, raising money for nonprofits

RELATEDDeschutes Trails Coalition announces $40K in Small Project Grant awards

This crew worked on the One Way Trail which, as the name implies, is one-way traffic only, downhill, through flowing curves.

It’s a classic single track, meaning one rider at a time, single file. 

“Essentially, we are trying to get the water to move off to the side so that we are not causing a bunch of deposits of sand in the middle of the trail. Making sure that there isn’t water pooling in the trail so that there’s a nice clean line to come through when you are riding your bike,” Spencer said.

When the volunteers think they are done improving drainage and sculpting the slope of the trail, the trail supervisor rolls a tennis ball down the trail to ensure water will flow off.

“Today we are doing drain work,” said Jason Caron, COTA Trail Technician. “The first couple of drains we focus on quality. We make sure they understand how water flows down the trail. Once you get that understanding, the work of building drains goes faster.”

Jason Caron has been volunteering with COTA to build and maintain trails for nearly a decade. During that time, he’s mastered the science of trail construction and maintenance and now shows first-time volunteers how they can help.

“I love contributing back to what I enjoy. I’m a mountain biker. I ride the trails four days a week. I see some of the issues with them,” he said. “Being able to contribute to keeping them in a functional state, not only for myself but for my friends and everyone else who rides the system in the community.” 

“It would be great to have more volunteers because, obviously, having more volunteers the better the trails can be and the more trails can be built,” said Charlie Wirtz, another volunteer. “It’s an economic boom for Bend and it’s a great family activity. It’s great for the kids. Anybody can do trail work. COTA provides training.”

COTA also puts on a pretty good spread of food and beverages to thank the volunteers.

“We post most of our events on Meet Up so that’s a great way to find out when the individual work parties are,” Andrews said. “We consistently have smaller work events and then fall and spring we have these larger events. You can come out any time. You can bring a friend. It explains on Meet Up what to wear, what to bring. We provide all the tools and safety equipment that people need so it’s very easy for folks to get involved.”

COTA has six chapters that focus on building new trails and maintaining existing trails around Sisters, Redmond, Madras, Prineville, Crook County, Bend and south Deschutes County.

“If every rider gave just one day of trail work volunteer, I feel like that would be enough to touch every trail in our system yearly and give it all the attention that it needs,” Caron said.

Here is a previous episode of The Great Outdoors in which we consult COTA on proper trail etiquette. 

Trail Etiquette: 101


Top Local Stories