Alan Eskrick - connecting bikers to Nelson nature

St Arnaud is a special place for mountain bike (MTB) trail builder Alan Eskrick. 

"The bird life up there is fantastic. Especially just after it’s rained.  You stand there and listen to the bellbirds and it’s deafening."

Alan has helped to build over 50km of trails in the region. 

Alan and his wife were originally runners, but she had a hip replacement  

“So, we thought mountain biking would be the next best thing to get into. And we got into it in a big way.”  

A big way means trips all around NZ and the world mountain biking.   

We’ve met a lot of mountain biking people. And they are quite a good breed really. They are open minded, free ranging sort of people. Not bound by convention.

Alan’s trails cater for many different type of mountain bikers -from the extreme diehards to the beginners and intermediate riders. These are the ones he focuses on when designing a new trail. 

“We are getting the e-bikers now on the cycle trails, which is fantastic. We want to encourage people to get out and enjoy the backcountry and enjoy the trails.”  

Alan was reluctant to get an e-bike. 

“But I had atrial fibrillations for a number of years and that made it difficult going up hills in the end. I got an e-bike earlier this year, haven’t been able to use it very much, but it is fantastic. It's transformed my riding – I can get up the hills and then I can come down the more difficult stuff that I want to.”  

Alan says the bad reputation e-bikes carry is often built on myths – for instance they do not destroy tracks.  

Like many mountain bikers it was a short journey for Alan from riding tracks to building them. 

“Well, I was actually the treasurer of the Nelson Mountain Bike Club, and I did its membership and its website and that sort of thing. And there were backcountry trails that we loved riding. Some of them, with a bit of work on them, could make them more ridable. I put together what I called the Epic Trails Plan, which was a nice, glossy, printed brochure with all these back country trails that could be linked up and ridden 

Alan helped form the MTB Trails Trust, which focuses on building trails around St Arnaud.  

“Building tracks is just something that kind of grows on you. Mountain bikers are like that, unlike trampers, they are prepared to get in there with a grubber and spade and build some track.”

But Alan likes the trampers too, and he hasn’t forgotten his running roots. He takes special pleasure in seeing trail runners and walkers out using tracks he built - getting all the same benefits of exploring the outdoors. 

Being nestled between Nelson Lakes National Park and Mount Richmond Forest Park makes St Arnaud a special place.  

“We have got quite a network at Teetotal, which is close to the St Arnaud Village. And we have put in a linking track there so you can ride directly from the village, and you can have 3 or 4 hours riding if you want.”  

“And then further to the east, we’ve got the Beeby’s Knob area where we have more difficult trails. We’ve got an 11 km uphill track, so you can climb 700m and get some pretty good descents. We’ve got 2 descending tracks off there now and we hope to build one or two more. So, we cover quite a gamut. Our aim was to create 4 to 5 days riding in the St Arnaud region, and we are getting quite close to that now.  

“We have been able to build a system of tracks there for different abilities. We started by building an uphill track, and then that led to downhill tracks and another uphill one. And we have put out a plan for a complete network there.”  

Compacting a new section of track

That plan is waiting for permission from DOC.  But in the meantime, Alan and his crew are upgrading the existing network by making the uphill tracks less steep.  

Alan’s background as a surveyor means he has a passion for getting the climbing grades correct.  

“I’m very hot on that. As we are building a climbing track it has got to be so people can ride up it easily. Even novices and intermediate riders.”  

The tracks have become a magnet for many groups of people, from local dog walkers to North Island mountain bikers.  

“We want the tracks to be shared use and we want people to learn to respect the users - none of this ‘Hey! This is a mountain bike track get out of my way!’ Instead it’s ‘Hey, how are you going? Are you enjoying your walk?’”  

The MTB Trails Trust has half a dozen trustees. Alan says, with the help of a digger that small group can achieve a lot of work.

Working on reducing the grade of Kaka track with the help of the MTB Trails Trust digger

“But when we are building a downhill track, hand building it, we call in working bees and we might get 18-20 [people]. We have had the Ground Effect crew from Christchurch come up, and we had 46 [people] building a track, and that really went fast.”  

The Trust also has an organised group of trailblazers, who help maintain the tracks. Each of them will choose a track to look after during the year, and they will go out and keep it trimmed and tidy. 

Alan and his team are keen to get more people exercising in the backcountry. They have worked closely with the Walking Access Commission to continue to improve public access to the outdoors.  

We are just pleased to create a community facility which people can use and enjoy, and hopefully it encourages them to get out and enjoy the backcountry. All our tracks up there are in native bush – only one short section on road. And we hope to bypass that soon too.