From young BLM volunteer to master trail builder: Local comes home to build bike trail

Story and photos by Sarah Beckwith, Public Affairs Specialist

The October opening of a new downhill optimized trail at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed Johnny Behind the Rocks (JBR) Trail System near Lander, Wyoming, held special significance for the trail’s builder. Alan Mandel was still a teenager when he began volunteering with the BLM Wyoming Lander Field Office to build and maintain trails at JBR, his home trail system. Now he works around the world as the owner of his own trail-building company—Trail Co. Inc.

“From his start with us as a teenage volunteer at Johnny Behind the Rocks to professional builds around the globe, our community has had a front row seat to Alan's development as a certified and eventual master of the trail building craft,” said BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Jared Oakleaf. “The completion of this trail brings it full circle and in turn elevates the community-based aspect of this trail system to a whole other level.”

A mountain bike rider with his wheels in the air on the new trail
A rider gets his wheels in the air on the new downhill optimized trail.
A rider hucks himself off a jump while another rider approaches a jump farther down the trail.
A rider hucks himself off a jump while another rider approaches a jump farther down the trail.

As a result of ongoing conversation with the community about the JBR trails, the BLM was alerted to potential safety and user conflict situations on the Johnny’s Draw Trail, stemming from fast downhill traffic. The new trail offers an alternative downhill route that will attract all skill levels of cyclists seeking a downhill optimized experience, significantly reducing downhill traffic on Johnny’s Draw.

Through a BLM-funded assistance agreement with the nonprofit organization Wyoming Pathways, Trail Co. Inc. was contracted to design and build the trail, with Mandel at the helm.

A mountain bike rider going downhill on the new trail.
A rider is in ready position as she drops into the new downhill optimized trail.

Cyclists gathered to ride and celebrate the official opening of the downhill optimized trail on a warm and sunny Wyoming fall day. Mandel was also on-hand to orient riders to the new trail and take a few laps himself.

Alan Mandel raises his hand next to his bike with a scenic landscape in the background.
Alan Mandel, owner of Trail Co. Inc., enjoys the day.

“It’s a huge opportunity for Lander and a dream come true for me,” Mandel said about the achievement.

It’s been 12 years since the BLM, Lander Cycling Club and community members hosted the first trail day at JBR. Since then, dozens of workdays have resulted in countless trail improvements, reroutes and new construction. These workdays are often headed-up by Lander Cycling, and many of its members attended the recent trail opening.

“Building trails doesn't happen overnight,” said Lander Cycling Club Executive Director Ami McAlpin. “Before the club began working collaboratively with the BLM at JBR in 2010, riders and hikers followed crude cow trails with sustainability issues. We're so grateful for the volunteers who have dedicated thousands of hours and club members who invest in our local trail systems. We couldn't be more excited about the new expert downhill section constructed by Alan Mandel and his company.”

Large, contracted projects at JBR are possible through the BLM’s cooperative agreement with Wyoming Pathways, which leverages shared resources and interest to implement trail-based planning decisions across BLM-managed public lands.

“It certainly seems like this trail will be a significant boost to the trail repertoire in Wyoming and should add to the local economy with a potential new and unique visitor set,” said Wyoming Pathways Executive Director Michael Kusiek. “And while it's a serious trail for folks who ride freeride style at a high level, the beauty of it is in the build—Alan Mandel is an absolute genius at building trail that suits all levels without compromising quality.”

Riders gather at Johnny Behind the Rocks as Wyoming Pathways Executive Director Michael Kusiek discusses the day’s plan.
Riders gather at Johnny Behind the Rocks as Wyoming Pathways Executive Director Michael Kusiek discusses the day’s plan.
A number of riders heading up the ridge on their rides to reach the new downhill trail.
Riders head up the ridge to reach the new downhill trail.

JBR, managed by the BLM’s Lander Field Office, is a popular non-motorized, multiple use trail area with opportunities for all skill levels. The origins of JBR improvements can be traced back to the BLM Master Trails Plan, completed in 2016 with substantial public input and community support. The plan authorizes future trails with the goal of providing diverse trail experiences for all non-motorized users.

“Thank you to the greater Lander community, Wyoming Pathways, Lander Cycling and many other partners,” said Oakleaf. “These purpose-built trail systems can only happen when users take on a larger stewardship role of their public lands.”

“Cheers to more trails, more partnerships and more people on bikes!" McAlpin added.  

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