Volunteers working to bring bicyclists back to Sam Houston Jones State Park

Several biking trails at Sam Houston Jones State Park were rejuvenated by the Lake Area Mountain Bike Organization (LAMBO).

Their goal is to “develop a premiere network of multi-use and bike-optimized trails for hikers, trail runners and off-road cyclists of all skill levels,” said Tyler Churchman, LAMBO founder and vice-president.

“Our current focus is on getting the word out regarding our larger mission to create a bicycle skills park and increased trail mileage with professionally built trails. This is a multi-year plan that will ultimately turn Sam Houston Jones State Park and the Lake Area into a unique trail destination typically only found in other states.”

LAMBO – Louisiana 501c3 non-profit corporation and local International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) chapter – became incorporated with the State of Louisiana and the Louisiana Office of State Parks (OSP) in 2022 with a mission to restore trails that were damaged by hurricanes Laura and Delta.

“The founding members of LAMBO acknowledged a need with our area to have a united organization to reclaim the trails that were destroyed by hurricanes Laura and Delta,” he recalled.

The group of 70 – alongside 200 friends on FaceBook – are volunteer trail advocates “whose mission is to create, enhance and preserve great trail experiences for all users across the Lake Area.”

Sam Houston Jones State Park was heavily damaged by the storms, and has been an area of focus for LAMBO. “Even now, some of the trails that have been reclaimed on the exact location as the original trails are still unrecognizable,” he explained. “When we finally were able to get in and work on clearing the trails, it was next to impossible to even find where the trails were.”

Prior to the storms, the trail system had almost 30 bridges from six to thirty feet long. Some trails were unaffected, but most were deemed unusable due to fallen trees.

Since February 2022, LAMBO has held 15 work days to clear debris, perform maintenance and refurbish bridges on the Yellow Trail, Kids Trail and Orange Trail. In April, 2023, they also put in the work to clear two thirds of the old Blue Trail.

In total, eight miles of trails have been reclaimed.

On May 6, in partnership with Phillips 66, LAMBO took on a large task of clearing debris, landscaping and rebuilding bridges on the Yellow, Blue and Purple trails.

Phillips 66 donated $27,000 to LAMBO for this project. For those at Phillips 66, the donation was personal. “Our employees ran and biked on the trails before the 2020 storms and want to get back to that at Sam Houston Jones State Park,” said Megan Hartman, Phillips 66 public relations director in a release. “LAMBO’s mission as volunteer trail advocates is to help reclaim, enhance and preserve great trail experiences for all uses. That’s exactly the type of partner Phillips 66 is seeking in our sustainability efforts here in Southwest Louisiana.”

Churchman said that most of the donation was used for the bridges. “Bridges are not cheap and soak up a large portion of our budget so this donation was well spent on much needed crossings that without them, would prevent the continuation of multiple trails.”

They were also able to purchase vital trail maintenance power tools to clear and maintain the trails. “Trail days are also a necessary expense so funds were used to rent earth-moving equipment, pay for fuel (and) the all-important hydration and nutrition for volunteers,” he said.

Churchman explained that these efforts will enrich and heal the Southwest Louisiana community.

“Our primary goal is to build exceptional trails close to home for all locals to enjoy, but we also aspire to invoke excitement and motivation of visitors from neighboring cities and states to travel hours to come experience the trails in the Lake Area.”

With great trails comes conservation, health benefits and economic stimulation, he explained.

A properly built trail aids in restoration efforts and has little effect on the area’s ecosystem. This is a nonnegotiable practice for LAMBO. Additionally, they develop fire roads for controlled burns, which are conducted to rejuvenate the original Longleaf Savannah.

The health benefits of functional trails are undeniable and should be accessible to all.  “More outdoor opportunities are needed as we face ever-expanding health problems from a lack of physical activity and increased stress from the effects of the pandemic,” he explained. “We want to create trails that encourage more park users of all ages, genders and socioeconomic statuses to get outside, be active, and enjoy the benefits of nature.”

Churchman also cited the economic benefits of the trails, as premier trails bring visitors (and revenue) not only to the park, but to the surrounding businesses. “Many Americans are looking for easy access to outdoor recreation and Sam Houston Jones State Park is a prime candidate with its proximity to major roadways.”

When LAMBO began their restoration efforts in 2022, their trail days averaged from 30 to 50 volunteers a day. After some time, this average dropped to 10 to f15. The trail day at Sam Houston, however, brought that number back up. “The P66 day was a fantastic turnout with close to 30 people, the majority of that being P66 volunteers.”

LAMBO also dispatches a few people a month to check in on the trails in addition to trail days.

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