Starting the Stoke Young
Rising ninth grader William Plunkett started working on trails at the age of five as a father-son activity with his dad Todd. Although William spent most of those work days eating doughnuts and playing in the stream, a seed was planted. Today, William is an avid mountain biker and trail volunteer. We chatted with Todd and William about their experience riding, building trail, and growing the community of volunteers in Patapsco Valley State Park.
Shortly after Todd moved to Maryland, he bought a mountain bike and researched trails to explore. He picked up one of the Best Rides books by Martin Fernandez and started riding in Patapsco Valley State Park. Like many of us who get hooked on mountain biking, Todd became curious about how trails are built and maintained. Curiosity led him to the MORE website (at that time still the MORE online forum) and eventually to volunteering for trail work days.
Todd showed up regularly to volunteer days in Fairland and Patapsco. He met Friends of Patapsco Valley State Park President Eric Crawford and got involved in fundraising for a proposed skills park in Rockburn Branch Park. On opening day of the Rockburn Skills Park, Todd’s three year-old son William was there, riding his balance bike on the pump track his dad and many other dedicated volunteers helped get built. “That was kind of the start of it,” Todd said, describing his son’s journey to becoming a mountain biker and trail volunteer.
At the Rockburn pump track
How did you get into mountain biking?
William: My dad asked me to go on rides. I wasn’t big into it but I thought it was a good use of my time. I’ve been liking it more and I’ve been trying to do more difficult things, which is making it more fun. Right now I’m with NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) and I’m really excited to start off the season.
I was with the Catonsville Bolts but now I’m with my new high school MSJ (Mount Saint Joseph). I’m in eighth grade now and will be going in as a freshman.
Will's first rock project on the Wood-Marr trail
How did you get involved in trail work days?
William: When I was five, my dad asked me, “Do you want to help me do something on the trails?” And I was like, that’s fun. He’s been doing it before and it will get me out doing other stuff in the morning. I would just use little snippers, snipping away roots and stuff. I wouldn’t do it for a very long time. I would end up playing out in the stream or building something else off the trail which would eventually be taken down by an adult. But it was always fun.
Todd: Eric does a good job getting the kids welcome into trail work days. He always has doughnuts, which is a huge draw. Halfway through, when the kids’ attention was elsewhere, he’d get them to play in the stream or somewhere else. It was a real positive experience. There would be about five or six kids and they would all band together and finish all the doughnuts.
Father and son volunteering at a Patapsco cleanup
Would you take Will with you to trail work because you had to take care of him that day or was it deliberate to also try to get him into trail work and mountain biking?
Todd: Absolutely the latter. I was hoping that he would grow an affection for the woods like I had. I like building trails almost as much as or perhaps more than I like actual mountain biking, and it’s something I really enjoyed sharing with him. On trail work days, we would ride together down into the valley and then we would have to ride from the bottom of the valley back up to the top. That was always a fun workout after you’ve dug for a few hours.
Trail work is MORE fun with friends, Bloede Dam Trail
What would you tell folks who are really into riding but have not tried working on trails?
William: Something that helps motivate people to do it is you can show your friends something you built. If you’re out on a ride with your friends, you can say “Oh I built this.” And then you get more people riding and they’re like, “Oh this is cool. I want to help build trail.” Then you get more people also coming to trail work.
Todd: William has a teammate and fellow scout Colin who is one of his best friends. They’ve done the MoCo Epic and the Patapsco Trail Fest a lot together. I’ll text his parents, hey I’m going out to trail work with William, do you want to come? And they’re like, we’re busy but Colin wants to come along. It became just something that the two of them would do. Now it's more likely William goes to trail work and puts in four strong hours if he has his friend there. They work together, talk, and have a good time. He tells me he enjoys it more when he gets a friend out there. They’ve done NICA Teen Trail Corps days. Now when Eric posts something about trail work, it’s posted to the NICA team website and now we get a consistent influx of teammates and other coaches coming out to trail work. It’s exciting. It’s people that you know, you talk to about building trail, and that gets them excited.
Likewise, in the scout troop, we went hiking in Patapsco. We talked about how William helped build this section of trail we were hiking on. They’re like, “Wow tell us more about this opportunity.” So now we’re starting to get the scouts involved in that same Friends of Patapsco Valley trail work day. It used to be just mountain bikers, but Friends has combined work days with hikers and the horse community. That’s been really helpful because you learn about the different trail users.
Will given ribbon cutting privileges for his hard work on the Ridge Trail Extension
NICA race in Deep Creek. Photo by Korey Hopkins.
Where do you see yourself after NICA?
William: I think I’ll always want to ride. I don’t know if I’ll always be racing. I might try out some fun little races, but I just really expect to ride and have fun and go to different places and ride with friends. I also like working on bikes so I wanna see if that takes me anywhere.
You mentioned you like working on bikes. Aside from that, have you noticed how else mountain biking has influenced other parts of your life like in school or other sports?
William: Mostly when I’m playing sports. I play soccer and whenever I’m thinking like, okay I’m getting tired, I just remember that last big ride I did. I think, okay, if I was able to do that, then this should be easy. It’s just running.