By Steve Hubrecht
As the battle over mountain bike trails in the Columbia Valley continues, confusion over the state of the popular Deja View trail arose last week. To clarify: although the Power Wagon and Stinking Badger trails in Dry Gulch have been totally shut to cyclists and are being reclaimed, and although signs posted at the trailhead of Deja View last week suggested that it was open to foot traffic only, Deja View is in fact still open to mountain bikers.
All the trails are unofficial and have been around for more than a decade. The move to close them has sowed division in the community: greeted with cheers from local environmentalists and, at least when it appeared as though Deja View was closed, by deep dismay from local mountain bikers. All three trails run somewhat parallel to the Old Coach Trail; Power Wagon and Stinking Badger along the high ground above it to the east, and Deja View to the west of it, along the edge of the ‘bench’ overlooking the Columbia River wetlands.
“At no point was biking prohibited from the Deja View trail. There was some erroneous signage installed about one and a half weeks ago that may have given the impression that mountain biking was not allowed. That was not the intention though, and those signs have since been removed,” said Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) spokesperson Tyler Hooper.
Columbia Valley Cycling Society (CVCS) director Erik Vanderkruk was one of several local stakeholders to do a walk through with FLNRO officials and biologists on Power Wagon, and during this meeting they learned that Deja View was not closed to mountain biking.
“It was good to do the on-site with the FLNRO team. We came away with a much better understanding of why that trail (Power Wagon/Stinking Badger) is being closed. The closure totally makes sense, and as a society, we fully support it. They are trying to create a buffer between Highway 93 and the Old Coach Trail,” said Vanderkruk. “We also came away hopeful that, for Deja View, we can come up with a workable, responsible plan that will allow some recreation, but still protects the wildlife and environmental values of that area.”
Vanderkruk and fellow CVCS director Jordie Kirk clarified to the Pioneer that the society had no involvement whatsoever in creating any of the three trails. Vanderkruk said it is quite likely that nobody ever actually lifted a shovel to construct the trails, and that they came into existence through a few cyclists riding on existing game trails over a number of years. He was quick to add the society does not condone this.
Hooper outlined that Power Wagon and Stinking Badger exist within the boundaries of the Columbia Wetlands Wildlife Management Area, that the primary management objectives for the wildlife management area are habitat and wildlife values, not recreation, and that reclaiming these trails is meant to reduce human disturbance levels from all user groups.
“The Power Wagon/Stinking Badger area passes through critical and limited range and refuge area for the Radium-Stoddart bighorn sheep herd. This herd has experienced significant declines in recent years due to habitat loss, fragmentation and proximity to human infrastructure,” said Hooper. “The trails travel just below and parallel to Highway 93 through features that act as escape terrain for the herd. Concerns that human disturbance on the Power Wagon/Stinking Badger trails will spook the sheep towards the highway and result in mortality have led to deactivation efforts.”
This is not the first time the future of the three trails has been up for debate: rumours of their closure — once again particularly of Deja View — sparked a torrent of debate and letters to the editors some four or five years ago. The seemingly imminent closure of Deja View never came to pass, however, as mountain bikers and other recreational user groups continued biking, hiking and dog walking on Deja View and the other trails.
Hooper said that FLNRO did start discussions with stakeholders about unsanctioned trails in the wildlife management area four or five years ago, and at that time deactivation was proposed for Power Wagon and a partial restriction on Deja View. The issue sat for a few years, but the ministry recently starting moving forward with trail stewardship action aligning with forest fire fuels management and habitat enhancement work in the area.
“Following these investments (the fuels management and habitat enhancement) to enhance the values of the wildlife management area, this year is an appropriate time to address the unsanctioned trails in the area and continue to work towards the protection and enhancement of wildlife and habitat,” said Hooper.
The Radium bighorn sheep herd doesn’t use the Deja View area as much or in the same way as the Power Wagon and Stinking Badger area, but FLNRO does have concerns about grassland impacts for Deja View.
“The Deja View/Old Coach Trail area lies directly upslope of the Columbia Wetlands – an area considered a biodiversity hotspot. Several large mammal and bird species rely on this upslope bench-land habitat that overlooks the wetlands,” said Hooper. “The growing popularity of the Deja View trail has increased disturbance levels and has widened sections of the unsanctioned trail, cutting farther into its sensitive plant community and providing an additional vector for invasive plant introduction and establishment. Invasive plants displace native species and reduce forage quality for ungulates. Leafy spurge has been identified on site in proximity to unsanctioned trails. This species is very challenging to eradicate and heightens concerns for the introduction of other non-native plant species.”
Hooper said that a ministry plan has not yet been confirmed for the future of the Deja View trail.
“It’s a tough balancing act. As a society we get that. We’re all about doing things responsibly,” said Vanderkruk. “There seems to be an image out there of mountain bikers that is based on a few bad apples. It is incorrect and unfortunately the whole (biking) community gets painted with the same brush. We would much sooner have sanctioned trails that are well-managed and enforced than unsanctioned and unmanaged mayhem.”
The ongoing debate about mountain bike trails around the Columbia Valley serves to highlight the need for quick action on the Columbia Valley Recreation Access Management Plan, according to Wildsight conservation director John Bergenske.
“It has taken way too long to get underway and moves ahead slowly,” Bergenske told the Pioneer. “The lack of a plan is frustrating. While recreationalists want more trails and are creating more access, wildlife and the natural environment continue to be the biggest losers. There is clear regulation that does not allow the building of recreational trails on Crown lands without a permit. Because of lack of provincial staffing and enforcement, this has generally gone misunderstood or simply ignored.
We all have an impact on the landscape when we venture out.”
Bergenske added everybody has a responsibility to minimize their footprint on the land, and acknowledge how their actions affect living things.
“The number of mountain bikes, as well as quads, dirt bikes, snowmachines, watercraft and 4x4s has grown immensely. All these forms of mechanized recreation have significant effects on the land, wildlife and other people in the valley. While the consequences of motorized recreation have been well documented, it is more recently that the impact of the growing number of mountain bikes has been recognized. Unfortunately, some riders don’t seem to recognize or simply don’t care about the impact of their trails on fragile landscapes and wildlife. People want to get out and recreate, and we need to have designated trails to enjoy, but not without an ecosystem-based plan. In the meantime, we are able to enjoy established roads and trails,” he said. “There are simply too many of us to think that trails and trail systems should be simply decided on by users. Everyone loses in the end if trail use decisions don’t include a values test that puts respect for all living things at the forefront.”