Submitted by Lyle Wilson, chairperson of Columbia Valley Greenways Trails Alliance and member of Columbia Valley Cycling Society
I am writing in response to the Recreationists in denial letter that ran in the Pioneer’s May 7 issue and on E-know, the online news portal. In this article, the writer has tried to undo the goodwill from years of good work done by dozens of dedicated volunteers of the Columbia Valley Greenways Trails Alliance (CVGTA) and the Columbia Valley Cycling Society (CVCS). He paints a picture of all mountain bikers as a cult of adrenaline crazed anti-environmental outlaws, who have no regard for wildlife, and who are not open to the opinions of others. Nothing could be farther from the truth! CVGTA, CVCS and the mountain biking community at large have been key players in the complex discussions happening right now within the Columbia Valley Recreational Access Management Planning process. Mountain bikers are working side by side with every other outdoor group in the region to come up with sensible plans which provide for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Mountain biking is a mainstream form of recreation producing fitness and well-being for local residents and providing tourism values which rival golf, alpine skiing and hiking for the Columbia Valley. The bicycle is one of the “greenest” inventions man has ever come up with.
CVGTA and CVCS have worked tirelessly with RDEK, Summit Trail Makers Society, Windermere Valley Rod and Gun Club, Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club, Windermere Valley Dirt Riders, the Columbia Valley Snowmobile Club and Rec Sites and Trails BC, as well as other groups and government agencies to insure that mountain biking is developed in conscientious and sustainable ways. Mitigating negative effects on wildlife plays a major role in this work. Biologists have conducted wildlife surveys and studies before trails are built on public land. Wildlife and the needs of other user groups are always taken into consideration prior to the first shovel hitting the ground. The Whistler Trail standards have become a provincial norm, and all mountain bike groups in the region build to these high internationally acclaimed standards. Properly built mountain bike trails have approximately the same impact on the environment as properly built hiking trails.
It has been the strong leadership of CVGTA and CVCS in recent years that has brought a virtual halt to the rogue trail building on public land, in sensitive ecosystems, and on private land. Our mutual efforts to jump through all the official hoops and only build trails that meet a stringent set of standards has become the trademark of both of these trail associations.
I must address a number of inaccurate points raised in the article. I have been mountain biking in this valley since 1984, and in tens of thousands of kilometres of local riding I have yet to witness a single deer, elk, sheep, or any other large mammals run crazed onto our roadways and into traffic because of a mountain bike rolling by. The average speed of a cross country mountain biker is about 10-15 kms/hour. The animals usually move off the trail, turn and watch the trail users go by as they do with hikers, trail runners and cross country skiers.
I’m not certain where the opinion comes from that the wildlife management area has been reduced by 80 per cent. The Dry Gulch Wildlife Management Area is the same size it was the day it was created, and the remainder of the public lands situated between Hwy 93/95 and the Columbia River are pretty much unchanged in the 41 years I’ve been running and riding in the area. The lands outside the wildlife management area are open for public use and mountain bikers have the same civic rights and have about the same impact as hikers, runners and other area users.
Although the urbanization of bighorn sheep in Radium is not desirable, it is simply a figment of the imagination to assume that sheep who are eating garden flowers and sleeping beside the highway one day will be driven crazy by the passage of a bike the next day. With the Radium herd it is more likely that you will have to hit them on the nose to get them out of your way.
The article states that 10,000 square meters of land is permanently destroyed by illegal bike trails. Most bike trails are under half a meter in width, and very few of these trails were actually built by mountain bikers. The vast majority of trails in this area are routes that originated as cow trails, horse trails, and old logging roads. All of these existing trails have been man made, so bikers, hikers and trail runners are all utilizing previously disturbed ground. If mountain biking and other forms of travel in this area miraculously disappear, these trails would naturally regenerate within a very few years. One of the nicest things about dirt trails is that they really aren’t very permanent. If trail damage is such a permanent problem, how is it possible that horses are allowed throughout the wildlife management area while mountain bikes are contested?
What is mechanized use? Is a parent pushing an infant along the trails in a chariot mechanized? Is cross country skiing mechanized, or snowshoeing and hiking with the assistance of poles mechanized? What about wheelchairs and other adaptive vehicles? If you are going to ban “mechanized” use, it effects a lot more user groups than just mountain bikers.
Are the trails cut into the hillsides within the Dry Gulch Wildlife Management Area a mistake? Yes! Without a well defined plan for biking within the management area, those trail segments should not have been built. Are the cycling community, CVCS and CVGTA trying to find solutions that satisfy the wildlife objectives of the area while providing conscientious human recreational use? Yes. With the Old Coach Road multi-use trail already wildly popular, and all forms of outdoor activities growing in the region, there have to be reasonable solutions to preserve wildlife values while accommodating human recreation in an area sandwiched between two busy tourist towns. Before radical, knee-jerk reaction decisions are made about the future uses of the land between Radium and the Shuswap band lands we should let the Columbia Valley Recreation Access Management Plan complete its process and see how everything fits together within the plan. If saving the bighorn sheep means closing the Dry Gulch Wildlife Management Area to human traffic then so be it, I’m all for it: Close it for ALL recreational use. But to target one user group as the root of all evil is simply prejudicial and destructive.
Organized mountain biking in this valley has worked too hard with many other agencies to stand by and let outdated and biased views destroy our countless hours of work.
I’m uncertain of what qualifications are required in determining that mountain bikers are an evil “cult” working in a state of total denial, only open to our own opinions. In the development of the Markin-McPhail Westside Legacy Trail, the CVGTA has liaised with numerous landowners, multiple levels of government, other agencies, sponsors, donors, contractors, companies, and individuals to complete a spectacular public trail. CVCS has completed world class trail networks throughout the region, with Mt. Swansea, The Johnson and Kloosifier trail networks serving both locals and valley visitors alike. Two adaptive mountain bike trail projects have been completed in the past year, allowing all people to enjoy the sport. Is the Columbia Valley biking community a close minded cult living in denial? I DON’T THINK SO! We’re all working hard making life in the valley a little bit better, wildlife included. The low blow at the credibility of all mountain bikers in the Columbia Valley has done no good. Whether you are a fan of mountain biking or not, we have to continue to work together in an organized co-ordinated effort to preserve our precious wildlife, while respecting people’s civic rights to the sustainable use of public lands. We’re all in this together, so let’s start acting that way. I invite the writer to come to our CVGTA meetings to see how decisions are made regarding trails in the Columbia Valley.