The Capital Regional District (CRD) unveiled its proposed mountain biking guidelines in a committee meeting last week.
The proposed guidelines, according to the CRD, are designed to “provide a transparent process for identifying the most appropriate mountain biking areas with regional parks and [acknowledge] that there is a desire for more quality mountain biking experiences in the region.”
“My sense from having talked to members of the mountain biking community is they’d like to see more trails and more variety of trails,” said Rebecca Mersereau, Saanich Councillor and Chair of the Parks Committee. “Given how rapidly the sport is growing I think there’s a sense that, that is quite an urgent need and they’d like to see the CRD make some commitments to address those needs in the near future.”
The sport of mountain biking has grown in popularity in the region, with the CRD reporting 8.5 million visitors to the parks in 2020, up from 5.5 million in 2010.
Currently, the regional parks have about 239 kilometres of trails for mountain biking, with 67 kilometres having been assessed and given a difficulty rating.
Mersereau also says that currently, the CRD doesn’t have the resources to address the issues of unsanctioned trail building.
“One of the challenges we have right now is we don’t have enough resources to really assess those directly in parks,” said Mersereau. “In our CRD context, really our parks program is primarily managed to protect ecological values.”
However, during a committee meeting last Friday where the proposed guidelines were unveiled, some from both mountain biking and ecological preservation sides felt the guidelines didn’t show enough support.
Former parks campaigner with Wilderness Protection and Land Conservancy, Alison Spriggs, said the new guidelines don’t do enough to protect the land that she fought for, asking to “put the brakes on mountain biking” and find other places for mountain biking, not in wilderness parks.
“At a time when protection of biodiversity is globally more important than ever, I fear we are losing our vision,” said Spriggs.
“Certainly hiking needs to be better managed, too many rogue trails have been made, but mountain biking is a whole other order of impact.”
South Island Mountain Biking Society (SIMBS) President Alon Soraya said the new guidelines are a step in the right direction, howerver, the organization is disappointed by the new guidelines, saying it reinforces misconceptions about the sport.
“We are, unfortunately, disappointed the guidelines reinforce existing barriers against our sport,” said Soraya. “This is not only the root of the very valid environmental concerns being raised around unauthorized trail development but also the perception that mountain biking and mountain bikers are unwelcome in regional parks.”
“We need to get past the mindset that recreation and conservation are opposing interests. In this case, adequate access to recreation really is the best way to support and enable conservation.”
Soraya also says if trails are built properly and in the right place, it can be an environmentally safe activity.
“If it’s a well-built trail and well designed and put in an area where it’s appropriate, then we can build it sustainably,” said Soraya.
The CRD says that finding a common ground at the moment may be difficult for the time being, but the guidelines and conversation will help come to a more optimal solution heading forward.
The issue will go to the board on May 12.