An Interview with the Man Behind the Ditch Witch


Everyone who rides, hikes, runs, or hunts illegally at the cove has seen him. You’ve surely passed him, skirted around him, turned around to avoid him, or pulled up for a chat and a thankful pat on the back. He’s actively involved with Pathfinders for Greenways and with RIMBA, and when he’s not working as an electrical engineer or attending a board meeting, he’s probably doing trail work at the cove.

RIMBA got together with Brian Batteiger to ask some questions about the man himself, his vision for local mountain biking, Carvins Cove, his work with the greenways, and more.

Brian is from Evansville, Indiana, and says that though he’s lived and ridden all over, “Roanoke is by far my favorite place to live.” See what else there is to know about this dedicated and passionate man:

1/ Will you provide some clarification on Roanoke Valley Greenways, 

The Greenway Commission, and Pathfinders for Greenways?

Roanoke Valley Greenways is not an organization; it is actually the local greenways and all the organizations and staff behind them.  By the way, many times the dirt trails are also called greenways and their mileage is lumped together often to report out on total greenway or trail mileage, which is normal practice across the country.

The Greenway Commission is made up of representatives from Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, and Vinton, plus representatives from most of the local user groups and organizations that support the greenways.  It meets every month on the fourth Wednesday at the Roanoke County Administration building at 4pm.  Most of the people at these meetings do this as part of their jobs.

The Pathfinders for Greenways is a volunteer non-profit organization that was started to support the Roanoke Valley Greenways by promoting them, finding funding and volunteering on projects.  All board members are also very interested in trails of all kinds from paved trails to the most rugged back country trails.  So this group is usually involved in most of the local trail projects in one way or another.  The interesting thing about this group is that we have representatives from most of the user groups and we focus on promoting multiuse trails in order to pool resources.  I think I can safely say that Pathfinders has by far the largest trail building tool and equipment inventory in the area thanks to our generous supporters and matching grants we have won.  Our volunteers have a great selection of tools to choose from and we have been wearing them out.

Pathfinders has around 15 board members that meet every month on the first Tuesday on a rotating schedule of 12pm and 5:30pm at two different venues.  Our membership is basically our donors and our volunteers.  Our database has 1039 volunteers with 798 that have come out to help and around 450 that still have valid emails.  The total volunteer hours in the database = 46,974 since 2003.  In 2013 we have had 120 volunteers help out with a total of 4,883 hours so far.

2/ How did you become involved with Pathfinders?

Back in 1996 I moved to Roanoke and loved riding at Carvins Cove among many other places nearby.  I would help out on any trail work days that were going on at the different places.  Since the Cove was nearby but not officially open for trail use, my friends and I would unofficially cut the deadfall off the trail and do minor trail repairs.  In the mean time Explore Park started to build their trail system and many of us got involved in that and started to get our first official trail building training from IMBA.  Then parking started to become an issue at the Cove as more and more people found out about the trails.

The City then had professional studies done on the trails and feasibility of opening them officially up to the public.  There was a Citizen Advisory committee established and Wes Best and Ian Webb were biking reps on the committee along with others.  They decided to open the Cove trails up officially to public use.  A group of mountain bikers then went to the City requesting to officially do trail work to make sure trails did not get closed due to erosion as the first professional study strongly suggested may happen.  The Parks and Recreation and the City Water Works representatives were not comfortable with just giving permission to one user group to work on the trails.  They were afraid that other user groups would object and frankly they were not sure of our qualifications.   They told us we needed to develop a group that represented most users (basically cyclist, hikers, runners, equestrians, and bird watchers).  That group which Ian Web first lead and I was a part of, was called VAST (Valley Area Shared Trails Network).

The first thing the City challenged us to do was to agree on trail names.  Believe it or not, this was a huge task because all the user groups had their own names that they did not want to change!  During this year of forced compromises and very long meetings, most of the members of the different user groups actually bonded and spent some time in each other’s shoes so to speak.  Many of the members were also part of Pathfinders for Greenways, and I was invited to join that board.  At that time I was leading VAST as Ian Webb had left town and I had developed the Web Based Trail Work Database as an easy way to track the trail work being done to promote our group and in order to get grant money for tools.  Eventually we just merged VAST into Pathfinders.  Besides, nobody can write a grant like Liz Belcher who is behind all the greenway and trail grants in the area and the glue that holds Pathfinders together.

It has been a great group to be a member of.  I went to many of their trail building and maintenance work days and eventually became a crew leader and was able to lead my own work days.  Pathfinders sends its crew leaders to several trail building training courses and workshops.  I have learned so much by working with this group even when I thought I knew everything, which I didn’t and still don’t.

3/ Everyone who mountain bikes at the cove has seen you working on the trails, and I bet plenty of us have felt guilty about riding past you. What motivates you to volunteer so much of your free time to work at the cove?  What do you have to say to those of us out there riding?

Let’s be honest, I would not be out there as much as I am if I didn’t love some aspect of it.  I love being out in the forest.  The engineer in me loves to make or fix things.  It feels great on those days when you end up with a group that works great together, with everyone doing the right things to make the project come together, and where we can all be proud of the results.  I don’t think there are many people that show up to work on the trail that don’t use the trails.  So we all will be passing people that are working on the trails at some point.  You should not feel guilty and I hope no one is made to feel guilty.

The people working do enjoy friendly interactions and certainly some patience if we happen to be blocking the trail while working on it.  We just want people to care about the trails and understand that the government will likely not be building and maintaining all your trails.  Some users are going to have to take an active role to get things done.  One of the first things that users can really do to help, is to not ride when the trails are thawing after a heavy freeze.   This does the most damage of anything we have seen.  The problem is that everyone wants to get out when the weather breaks.

4/ What is the role of Pathfinders at the cove and other areas heavily utilized by mountain bikers?

Pathfinders promotes the building and maintaining of sustainable non-motorized multiuse trails.  Many of the volunteers with Pathfinders like to mountain bike.  As far as Carvins Cove is concerned, Pathfinders and VAST were the first groups that the City and Water Authority have worked with to do trail work at the Cove.  Pathfinders played a very active role in helping the City put together the current trail management plan for the Cove in 2010.  Our group did the detailed trail assessments and helped write the plan.

Pathfinders has worked with many organized user groups, but we have always noticed that mountain bikers really didn’t have an organization which is a big problem when user conflicts arise.  There were several attempts, but it seemed that mountain bikers were not into clubs or organizations much.  Mountain bikers are also not all the same, there is a huge difference in what kinds of trail experiences they like.  Pathfinders has always believed that the volunteers doing most of the work have the most influence on the trail they are making or maintaining as long as it is sustainable and meets the land managers requirements.

5/ What is the relationship of Pathfinders and RIMBA? How do you see these 2 organizations working together in the future?

Pretty much all the mountain bikers in Pathfinders for Greenways are also part of RIMBA, and if they are not, Pathfinders would recommend that they join.  Pathfinders follows IMBA’s trail building advice and has a club membership with IMBA also.  RIMBA is the Roanoke area chapter of IMBA, so we support the need for a mountain biker’s organized local voice.  Also, RIMBA has been great for attracting more mountain bikers to the trail work days no matter who is leading them.  RIMBA has also graciously agreed to provide the snacks and drinks for the Carvins Cove trail work days.  It looks like in the near future RIMBA will also be leading their own trail work days at the Cove and may be collecting their own tools and equipment over the years.  No matter where each group is doing trail work, I am sure there will be members of both groups helping.

6/ What is one thing you would like people to know about you?

I moved to Roanoke on purpose from Indiana.  But I have lived in several other places.  Roanoke is by far my favorite place to live.  Other places are nice to visit, but usually due to weather or them being too small, I would not want to live there.  I have lived in Chicago area and LA area and they are too big and crowded for me.  I have never been anywhere that has as many trails within an hour as Roanoke and that includes Colorado and Asheville!

7/ You seem most heavily involved with work at Carvins Cove. Can you clarify my long held question? Apostrophe or no apostrophe? And what is your vision for the future of the cove?

No Apostrophe.  As many of you know, Carvins Cove is the 2nd largest City owned park in the country at near 13,000 acres.   I would like to see around 80 miles of well maintained trails with a variety of features.  However, I hope that erosion or mud is not ever considered a desirable feature purposely left on the trails by the land managers.

8/When did you start riding?

I started in the mid 70s riding what we called 10 speeds on trails.  With the fat road tires we used back then, they were closer to cyclocross bikes than the road bikes of today.  Then I mostly did road touring starting in college in the 80s.  I got my first real mountain bike in 1987.  My first mountain bike race was in Chicago Waterfall Glen Park around 1989.  I joined IMBA around that time (I have only let my membership lapse a few years in all that time).  I raced in the Craig County Escape (Potts Mountain) in 1991 on a business trip to Roanoke.  At that time around 7 years in a row, I went out west for mountain bike vacations.  I do miss doing that, but to be honest I think it is because we have such nice trails here, I have not pushed harder to keep going out west.

9/ What do you love most about mountain biking?

I do love hiking also, but I love the distance you can cover with a bike.  I also like the feeling of rolling down the trails.  It is sort of like a roller coaster and you wonder or anticipate where the trail is going to take you next.  A brand new trail is the most exciting for me, but they are getting harder to find as I get older.

10/ What do you love most about trail work?

I like the feeling of accomplishment.  I can’t wait to ride something that we have worked on.




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