As citizens of Canada, we have the same rights to the free use of public lands as any hiker or horseman, or anybody else for that matter, as long as our presence doesn’t fundamentally change that place. If “Sacred” means that one user group can claim to have exclusive use of public land at the exclusion of other users, then a re-think of public policy is a more pressing need.
There are misrepresentations in the letter to the editor “Sacred” that appeared in the Pioneer July 21st . The organized trail-using community has proven that well built multi-use trails, constructed using proper techniques in appropriate terrain have no more impact than hiking trails in the same setting. Horses on the other hand are one of the most damaging ways of desecrating the fragile alpine soils and plants. A shoed horse wears deep ruts in no time, and as a horseman who has spent thousands of hours trail riding horses in the upper Kootenay drainage, I have witnessed this up Whiteman Pass, the Mitchell River and numerous other areas that horses are used. Even the Rockwall Highline in Kootenay National Park, which has not seen horses in 20 years still shows the scars of years of equine travel by wardens and outfitters. I do not feel that I have the right to say horses should not be allowed in the alpine. With proper planning, including environmental impact assessments and sustainable and sustainable construction methods, multi-use trails can exist which allow access to our spectacular alpine backyard for all groups without jeopardizing its natural status. I am a mountain biker. I am also a hiker, horseman, cross country skier, snowshoes, trail runner, and canoeist, and I welcome any and ALL non-motorized, self propelled user groups who wish to visit our high mountain regions.
While not a proponent of motorized off-road recreation in any undisturbed natural setting, I accept that we must also find a way and a place for the motorized community to be able to enjoy our region. This all takes cooperation, careful consideration for our precious wildlife values, and in most cases some compromise between user groups. Mountain bikers get grouped with motorized off-road recreation, yet there is no comparison regarding the impacts on the terrain between pedal biking and dirt biking or quadding! When one group – mountain bikers – are characterized as being the demise of our wildlife without studies to support this claim, it becomes divisive and fails to advance the meaningful dialog required for a growing number of users of outdoor sports trying to work together on a shrinking land base. Nipika Mountain Resort manages the largest, most concentrated network of sanctioned trails in the region and we have kept track of wildlife in the area with the use of game cameras, track observations and sightings for four decades. We have proof the game counts in the Cross River Canyon Rec Area are the same as they are in the middle of Kootenay National Park. We have eliminated motorized recreational access and shooting from this area, but see roughly 20,000 annual trail users on a year round basis. Cross country skiers, snowshoers, hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers all slide and glide around our trails 365 days a year and deer, elk, moose, cougars, bobcats, wolves, coyotes and bears all still exist in healthy balanced numbers. Quietly gliding along an established trail on a bicycle is one of the most benign ways of getting into nature and no one kills animals with their bikes! If any person or group is truly concerned about wildlife values, we should designate large natural areas where no one goes, without singling out one user group as the culprits behind all back country misuse.
The back country is not what it was 50 or 100 years ago, when the only ones venturing out were on a horse with a hunting rifle or fishing pole. Today there are virtually millions of trail runners, cross country skiers, and mountain bikers who love their adventures in the mountains. This didn’t exist 50 years ago but it is today’s reality with growing numbers. What is needed is meaningful dialog and working together to establish facilities that service these valued residents and visitors in the most sustainable and low impact ways we can. We can build trails sustainably, in the right places, with the best techniques, or do nothing and allow rogue trail builders to continue to put trails in all over the place using inferior methods, and down the road we do have an environmental mess to clean up. I am passionately involved in the trail sport community with the goal of doing it right so that at the end of the day we create a situation in which resident and visitor trail users of all disciplines have a quality place to enjoy in a way that respects and preserves our unmatchable wild beauty. Don’t throw stones at these efforts, get involved, work together and help do it right!