Peter Weilandt has heard mountain bikers loud and clear.
The Kamloops-based planner from the provincial Ministry of Environment is working on management plans for parks in the Lillooet area, including the South Chilcotin Mountains Park, which is about 150 km north of Whistler and an increasingly popular hotspot for bikers. Of the nearly 400 responses received through public input to the draft management plan, he estimated only about 20 did not touch on mountain biking in the park.
The draft plan pitches restricting timing, zoning and location of mountain biking to reduce the possibility of interactions with grizzly bears.
"We were expecting some sort of a response, not quite to the level that was shown," he said. "It was a little bit of a distraction getting feedback that we may be biased toward mountain bikers.
"Once you get past the initial step, the initial statement that they're worried about losing some mountain biking in the park or having too many restrictions put on them, it's great."
Weilandt stressed though each response will be considered, they'll all be looked at through the prism of the park's values as a conservation and wilderness area. He said the conservation values are "high" and it takes "fairly intensive management to make sure we maintain those values," though a proper balance with recreation uses will be sought.
"We'll take everyone's input into consideration and we'll take it from there," he said. "The main thing that I got out of most of the input is that people value the remote setting, the values of wildlife and the views in the park."
The plan has been in development since 2011. Though no dates are firm for a final plan and its implementation, Weilandt said it "shouldn't take too long to draft the final plan" and receive an internal review. From there, the plan will go through one final public review. The plan will be directly sent to anyone who provided input and will be posted online at www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/planning/mgmtplns/lillooet/lillooet_mp.html.
"If there's anything else anyone wants to say about it, they'll be free to do so," Weilandt said.
Of the 973 references to mountain biking in the responses submitted, 411 addressed "fairness," concerned that mountain bikers would be disproportionately restricted compared to other users. Another 198 recommend maintaining the "status quo" for mountain bikes, while there were 170 responses suggested greater management of mountain bikes. A further 87 responses felt mountain bikers were underrepresented in the draft, which estimates about a third of visitors are bikers.
A handful of responses sought to ban or restrict snowmobile, ATV and motorcycle use, though others pointed out there are no other ways to access remote areas of the park. Others asked for clearer boundaries for motorized vehicle use. Some responders were concerned about horses bringing invasive species into the park and a single response sought to ban horse riding outright.
Weilandt is also looking to form an advisory committee before the new management plan is implemented.
"We've contacted a number of stakeholders that are interested in parks or are tourism operators, (representatives) of mountain biking organizations... nature organizations, as well," he said.