Men Involved: Ken Barker
Ken Barker has been building and riding trails for decades and as a result, gained vast experiential knowledge.
His travels have taken him, along with friends and family, to first-rate trails across North America, deepening his belief that quality trails are a conduit for outdoor appreciation and building community.
Ken has a passion for the exceptional trail experience and understands the value this can bring to communities everywhere.
Ken’s professional experiences outside of trail development have been predominantly in the field of education, where innovation and collaboration are a must. During his 18 year tenure as an educator, Ken has led teams of teachers in designing and executing student-centered educational programming.
As a trail builder, Ken Barker has an unwavering commitment to quality and sustainability, noting that, “Building mountain bike trails is an art form. Trail concepts and design best practices are based in science, with new techniques continually evolving; however, the final result is truly a work of art. This merging of science and creativity contributes to unique and exciting trail experiences. I strongly believe these sorts of trails should be within striking distance of every home.”
"My biz BYT is a trail development firm... design, education, assessment, construction, maintenance, etc. all things trails!"
Tell us about your introduction to #bikelife, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
I'm sure most everyone you interview says something to effect of "I've been riding bikes my whole life!" and I pretty much have been, but as I think about it... for me it's the general positivity of the activity and lifestyle: it's fun, it's healthy, it can provide challenge - exercise - escape - etc. and many friendships have come of playing around on these silly contraptions. Simply put, I love riding bikes, always have, and likely always will.
Have you always known that biking would somehow be incorporated into your work?
I've always tried to use a bicycle when feasible for "regular life" stuff like commuting to work, grocery getting, traipsing my children around, etc. This has led to me continuously advocating in favor of community improvements for cyclists of all types, pedestrians as well. I've started mt. biking clubs in schools as an educator, and in communities as a rider / advocate. And now: trail development as a profession.
How did you get started with trail building?
Like many kids, I was digging in the dirt in order to have more fun on my bike, somewhere between Star Wars and The Goonies movie releases. Upon ditching my automobile for an MTB in the early 90s I began to cut paths in wooded areas, feeling that I could do better than the deer when it comes to flying through natural environments. Eventually, this led to advocating for trails and working with land management agencies to bring "legal" singletrack to various properties.
When did you decide to create Backyard Trails LLC.?
I’d been thinking about starting a trail development firm for many years, but it wasn't until 2017 that I went all in and launched the official business.
What inspired the name of your company?
My belief is that the most important trail in the world is the one you ride most often... i.e. your hometown (backyard) trail(s) #LocalSingletrack #HometownTrails #BackyardTrails and now IMBA's #MoreTrailsCloseToHome
What has been the most challenging trail you've constructed?
Nearly all of the time I'm building trails it is for others, and those trails are often in the novice to intermediate range. It's exciting when I get the opportunity to build something challenging. There's some fairly tough stuff in my own backyard, however, on public property I was recently able to design and build a local trail named The Miscreant; I think people would call it challenging. It's a good thing when riders of all skill levels have access to trails that challenge them, it's rewarding to be a part of that growth / progression.
It should seem logical, but what do you do as a trail builder? How do you build trails right?
It begins with intentional design / planning... to meet the needs of trail users of today and the future, the intent: trail experiences that satisfy a variety of what people are seeking; or may not even realize they’re seeking. Practices that keep the trails sustainable are a given, the part that leverages my expertise is creating trails that satisfy the wide variety of what trail users are looking for.
Omigosh, that is a tough one! Holy Cross Trail - Grand Jct. ColoRADo is one of the first to come to mind. The variety of amazing trail experiences in British Columbia is so vast there is simply no way to choose one… Samurai Pizza Cat at the Whistler Bike Park, Full Nelson in Squamish, the list goes on and on. A zone that really surprised, and inspired me, is Whitehorse & Carcross in the Yukon, very remote yet amazing trails. I also enjoy how creative and fun many bike park trails have become… Little Switzerland in Wisconsin has all sorts of fun lines, on a little Midwest bump in the landscape, I love it! I have also been visiting Arkansas for years, and to see the steady evolution to explosion of trails occurring there is mind-blowing.
As a builder, where is your favorite trail located?
The way the feeling of flow is eeked out of minimal elevation in the upper Midwest will make anyone smile. I find it amazing trails of that quality can exist in such harsh environments, it is inspiring to me as a builder and rider. They get after it up there, do yourself a favor and check it out: Marquette, Houghton, Copper Harbor all in Michigan; Bayfield, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota are a few of the places you can find what I’m referring to.
How do you work with mountain bike chapters/communities?
It depends where they are with their trail development needs: planning / designing new trails or reroutes, rehabilitating old or damaged trails, consultation and or training for trails advocacy / construction / maintenance / etc. And my favorite… actually building trails.
What has been the most interesting thing you've learned since making trail building your job?
The “sales cycle” can take years! Operating a small business has its own set of challenges and rewards. Overall I feel lucky to engage in my passion as a means to make a living.
If you could build a trail anywhere, where would you go?
Right here. I love bringing surprisingly fun and high-quality trail experiences to places people may perceive as not having the potential. Trail systems of any size accessible for more people to enjoy… shouldn’t be an afterthought, they should be amazing as those are the most important trails in the world.
Why do you love riding?
Many reasons, but what really speaks to me is the feeling of getting lost in the moment, losing yourself in a way that is engaging on many levels; an almost hypnotic immersion into the experience of navigating your bicycle through a natural space.
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more folks to be involved?
Dream big for your local trail(s), but keep it realistic and do what you can. Think about singletrack trails as you would any other community amenity (ball fields, playgrounds, etc.) and advocate for them as such. You don’t necessarily need to volunteer every weekend, donate huge amounts of resources, and turn your life upside down to make it happen. It is amazing what can be accomplished by groups of people working together, when they engage with the right partners, think in and outside of the box, it can make a big and positive difference in communities.
What inspires you to encourage people to ride?
The positivity and well being it brings to peoples' lives... exercise, challenge, joy, camaraderie, escape; all the above!
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I wore the Singlespeed USA belt for a year.