Transatlantic Exchange: Visiting NWACC’s Trail Technician Program

25 April 2024

Transatlantic Exchange: Visiting NWACC’s Trail Technician Program

DIRTT Goes Stateside to Strengthen Trail Builder Training in a Global Perspective

We were thrilled to learn about the new Trail Technician Program at NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC), supported by an $8 million USD investment from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation. It was evident that NWACC harbored significant ambitions and a robust belief in the importance of formal training and skills recognition for trail builders.

As an open-source initiative, DIRTT has openly shared all its resources and insights with NWACC, maintaining regular updates since January 2023. Our goal has been to learn from and exchange knowledge on trail builder education development. Most importantly, we aim to align competencies and job profiles in a transatlantic context. Recently, we seized the opportunity to visit our colleagues at NWACC, explore their facilities, discuss transatlantic integration, and—last but not least—review some of the most innovative trail building projects underway globally.




Bentonville – A Mountain Bike Wonderland

To fully appreciate the ambitious initiative at NWACC, one must consider the ongoing development in Bentonville and the broader NorthWest Arkansas area, self-proclaimed “Mountain Bike Capital of the World.” Home to Walmart’s headquarters, Bentonville was once not considered an attractive place to live unless one was “doing their time in the trenches,” as Walmart management often puts it. This perception has changed dramatically since mountain bike trails became the primary driver for revitalizing Bentonville and the surrounding area. Billions of USD have since been invested in transforming the region into a mountain bike Shangri-La. Trails now weave through peri-urban and backcountry zones and integrate into city centers, allowing riders to begin their adventure directly from the downtown square. Despite its modest elevation, the area compensates with clever use of terrain and trail building techniques. The region buzzes with mountain bikers of all ages and skill levels, making it a desirable place to live in the northwest corner of Arkansas.

These substantial investments have also positioned Bentonville as a hub for some of North America’s largest trail building companies, including Rock Solid Trail Construction, Progressive Trail Design, and Rogue Trails. The presence of these industry leaders has created a strong demand for skilled trail builders, catalyzing the launch of the Trail Technician Program at NWACC.





DIRTT Syllabus at NWACC

The new Trail Technician study at NWACC is scheduled to begin later this fall. The qualification level of the education corresponds to levels 4 and 5 of the European Qualification Framework (EQF), aligning with the competence levels DIRTT currently addresses. Students can choose from four different certificates: Trail Technician, Trail Management, Trail Construction and Management (a combination of the previous two), or Trails and Community Development, with programs varying from one to two semesters.

We are extremely pleased that our DIRTT EQF Level 5 syllabus is now integrated into the Trail Management certificate, ensuring that learning outcomes are synchronized across the Atlantic. During our five-day visit at NWACC, we scoped out further opportunities for competency integration, such as with our European EQF Level 4 Trail Technician syllabus, which is currently under development.

We also conducted a pilot test of the forthcoming NOCTI trail technician accreditation test—a 140-question multiple-choice test developed in collaboration with the Professional TrailBuilders Association (PTBA), American Trails, and other leading industry professionals. This test aims to evaluate the knowledge needed for the technical aspects of planning, building, and maintaining mountain biking trails. We believe this test framework can be a valuable resource in preparing candidates for future European trail builder certification, e.g. by e-learning modules preparing for competency assessment.






Why is Integration Important?

Trail building is rapidly expanding globally, yet it remains a nascent industry lacking formal training, education, and skills certification structures. Through initiatives like DIRTT and the NWACC Trail Technician program, these frameworks are beginning to emerge. While there are regional and national differences—in Europe and other continents alike—the principles of good trail building practice are largely consistent worldwide. We believe the international trail building community must cooperate to legitimize and elevate trail building as a recognized profession and craft, which will result in better, more inclusive, and sustainable trails. By working internationally, we also promote greater mobility, contributing to improved knowledge flow and lifelong learning in the sector.

We want to thank NWACC, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, Runway Group, and Visit Bentonville for facilitating and sponsoring our visit. Special thanks to Professor Megan Bolinder and her incredible staff, as well as Gary Vernon at Runway.