Derrick Bell: The Rebuilder
A career trail builder reflects on time well spent in the woods.
One of the most respected proverbs in mountain biking - and one of the most loosely followed - is “no dig, no ride.” When your favorite pastime relies on manual labour to sustain itself, it’s often the work of the dedicated few that benefit the many. One of those few is Derrick Bell, a lifelong mountain biker and trail builder from Oakridge, Oregon. Over the last 25 years, Derrick has wielded chainsaws, pulaskis, shovels and rakes in order to help grow his local mountain bike community. Constantly searching for more efficient ways to dig in the forest, he now transports his tools and fuels with the assistance of an e-mountain bike and bob trailer.
Over the years Derrick witnessed the transition of Oakridge from “loggers with chainsaws, to mountain bikers with chainsaws and loggers on mountain bikes,” a stark comparison to the railroad boomtown where timber floated the local economy for the majority of the 20th Century. All that changed in the 1980s, when the town’s largest employers — the two local sawmills — shut down and laid off all their workers.
The sudden shift in economic stability left many local residents disillusioned and uncertain about their futures. When Derrick moved to Oakridge he learned the art of chainsaw in order to clear deadfall and combined that with his burgeoning trail building experience, he began rebuilding and repurposing local trails for mountain bikes.. The result was more trail, that more people could ride, more often. Few people acknowledged it at the time, but expanding the trail network — and the resulting influx of mountain bike tourism — was exactly what Oakridge needed.
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