New mountain biking guidelines and short-term actions were passed by the Capital Regional District (CRD) Board this week.
The CRD says the guidelines will be used to help make improvements and expand the riding areas in CRD regional parks, where mountain biking has grown over the years.
“Positive relationships with the mountain biking community are an important part of moving forward with this recreation in the region,” said Colin Plant, CRD Board Chair in a press release Thursday.
“The mountain biking guidelines will provide the CRD the additional tools that it needs to establish quality mountain biking opportunities while ensuring adequate and ongoing protection of cultural and environmental values.”
The decision has made local mountain biking advocates excited for new possibilities in the sport.
“We were thrilled to hear a lot of the CRD directors acknowledging the benefits that mountain biking offers in terms of mental health, economic impacts to the region and the local business owners,” said Alon Soraya, President of the South Island Mountain Biking Society (SIMBS).
Soraya said the new guidelines will be implemented for management planning in the areas of Mount Work Regional Park and at Thetis Lake.
Residents of the CRD have echoed the comments, comparing the CRD with areas like Cumberland on Vancouver Island. They say that the area needs more trails to accommodate the growing number of trail users and families joining the sport.
“The region needs more trails and a greater diversity of trails to support new riders, young riders, ageing riders,” said Elana Angus, a business owner and resident of the CRD.
However, environmental advocates raised concerns about the sustainability and ecological concerns of mountain biking. Alison Spriggs, a former parks campaigner for the Wilderness Committee and the Land conservancy says she has concerns for the wildlife in the greenbelt area.
“We created this greenbelt over the years in an effort to protect the integrity of this last wild land on the edge of greater Victoria,” said Spriggs. “Mountain biking has very high impact on wildlife, much more so than hiking.”
Spriggs says the reason for this may be because of the speeds that mountain bikes travel at compared to hikers.
Spriggs says she isn’t opposed to mountain biking, but would rather see the addition and development of trails occur in areas she says are less ecologically sensitive than areas in the CRD.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity to create mountain biking areas, dedicated areas, adjacent to the core wilderness and protected areas,” said Spriggs. “For instance, on the west side of Sooke Potholes, there is an area of land owned by a private logging company that has similar topography to the rest of the Sooke hills protected area.”
She says the area has lakes and areas of old skid roads. She also says because it has been logged, the environment doesn’t have the same sensitivities as the protected areas.
However, Soraya says if trails are built sustainably it will lessen the environmental impact.
“There’s actually several bodies of guidelines and standards for the construction of recreation trails,” said Soraya. “Our license agreement with CRD references the International Mountain Biking Association Guidelines.”
“So, that is a very comprehensive document outlining exactly how to construct sustainable trails, what kind of materials to use, how to design them and site them so that they’re not prone to erosion.”
He also pointed out SIMBS’ plans to work with landowners, conservationists and other stakeholders to address concerns to the local environment. He says this will help ensure the local habitats and species are protected.
Soraya says the next couple of years of development of trail building will focus on entry-level trails to expand the opportunities for new riders. Currently, there are 239 kilometres of trails in the CRD area. According to SIMBS, only 67 kilometres of those trails offer “true” mountain biking.