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Province releases mountain bike strategy

Plan calls on clubs to take responsibility for Crown land trails



By Andrew Mitchell

Bike trails that fall within Whistler’s boundaries are safe, but the future of trails that fall on Crown land will be largely up to local clubs in the future.

On Oct. 16 the Ministry of Tourism, Sport and the Arts (MTSA) released its first draft of a management plan for mountain biking across the province, Authorizing Recreational Mountain Bike Trails on Provincial Crown Land. Although the report acknowledges mountain biking as a legitimate recreational activity and economic driver, it also makes it clear that the province does not view the care of those trails as its responsibility.

According to the report, “MTSA does not have the capacity to locate, maintain and manage all the mountain bike trails that have been built on Crown land. Accordingly, the main MTSA strategy for accommodating recreational mountain bike trail building activity on Crown land is to enter into partnership agreements with mountain bike clubs and other local organizations that allow them to use, maintain and develop trails on certain Crown lands.

“The agreements will contain terms that enable MTSA to achieve policy objectives regarding public safety, user conflict avoidance, and environmental stewardship. Unless these policy objectives can be achieved, MTSA will not authorize trail development and maintenance on Crown land, and known unauthorized trails and facilities will be removed.”

Although the plan recognizes the legitimacy of the sport and thousands of kilometres of trails around the province, bike clubs like WORCA are concerned that the province is downloading the cost of maintaining those trails on non-profit clubs. If they cannot cover the costs of maintaining trails to provincial standards, they risk seeing those trails shut down.

“It’s great that the province is taking an interest in mountain biking but their interest seems to be in gaining the financial benefits they can without investing anything,” said WORCA past president Grant Lamont.

While there are no concrete figures, it’s believed that mountain biking is becoming a significant contributor to tourism in the province, generating millions of dollars in revenues for bike shops, guide companies, the hospitality industry and commercial bike park operators like Whistler-Blackcomb.

According to Lamont, the plan does not include any kind of budget or funding for clubs, even if they maintain the trails that makes tourism possible. Further, he says the report also seems to download the responsibility of maintaining multi-use trails used by hikers, runners and other user groups on mountain bike clubs.

And while the plan does mention giving tenure to commercial operators — specifically mountain bike guiding companies — it’s not clear whether commercial operators will also be required to contribute to the upkeep of trails they use.

“For now we have to look at the positives, that the province is recognizing mountain biking as a legitimate sport and that when trails are on Crown land they should meet certain standards for quality,” said Lamont.

“We also have to get a handle on what (the plan) is meant to do, help us or control us. It’s still in the draft stage, but these are the kinds of things we need to address sooner or later.”

WORCA’s trail budget has been increasing substantially in recent years, mostly in recognition of the growing number of people using the trails and the need for more maintenance. A total of $22,000 from this year’s $34,000 Community Enrichment Grant awarded by the municipality went to maintain and build trails, as well as a portion of the proceeds from memberships and Loonie races. It’s unknown how much of a budget WORCA would require in the future to maintain bike trails in the region that fall onto Crown land.