The rules run through it
Dan Swanstrom has a one track mind — actually his mind would better be described as a singletrack mind.
Swanstrom is a 41-year-old carpenter who has lived in Whistler for the past decade. For five years now he has been hacking, scraping and cutting a network of singletrack in the Whistler Valley that is so sweet it is the nectar of the woods.
His accomplishments so far, if stretched end to end, would probably reach Pemberton, but his trails are all right here in Whistler. A hit list of Swanstrom's handiwork includes A River Runs Through It, White Knuckles, Shit Happens, Big Kahuna, No Girlie Mans, Beaver Pass, Cactus Cut and the newest gem — danimal, completed last fall.
But when the Forest Practices Code came into effect June 15, Swanstrom, an admitted singletrack junkie, went cold turkey.
Sitting outside a local coffee shop, Swanstrom says he can't continue building trails because the new Forest Practices Code makes trail construction on Crown Land illegal without the approval of the District Manager at the local Forest Service Office.
"It's just not worth the risk, there are all these new rules in place and to tell you the truth my forté is building trail, not filling out proposals," he says. "I think the Forest Service may be looking for someone to make an example of and it's not going to be me."
Now he's in withdrawal.
Like a junkie trying to kick a five year heroin habit, Swanstrom shivers and quivers when he speaks of his love affair with pick, shovel and saw that has borne some of the best singletrack in North America as its offspring.
"You know when you go to bed at night and you're still thinking about stuff," Swanstrom says, his eyes glazing over. "Well, I go to bed thinking about singletrack. I dream about just floating over the trail… it's very cool."
Swanstrom's singletrack is very cool. A seasoned rider, he builds trails with nature and the rider in mind. "All my trails are designed so they can be ridden both ways," he says. He usually walks planned trail routes five or six times, before going over the entire route with an altimeter, to mark notable spots. Before he clears any brush he then rides the trail, to ensure it's bicycle and environmentally friendly.
Then the work begins, with a pick, bar and hand saw, Swanstrom clears brush and creates a trail bed.
Under the Forest Practices Code, trail proposals will be judged on three criteria; is the trail environmentally sound, does it pose a safety hazard and are there any resource use conflicts in the area.
Trail design and construction is a big part of Section 102 of the Forest Practices Code and the Act makes it quite clear that gone are the days when anyone could build a trail anywhere they wanted. The section applies to all construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of recreation facilities on Crown land outside federal or provincial parks. The regulations do not apply to private land or land owned by municipalities.
The original maximum penalty proposed for not complying with Section 102 was $100,000. The Forest Service quickly realized how ludicrous that was and moved the maximum fine down to $5,000. But for a guy who is spending his own time and money on trails, that's too big of a risk.
Swanstrom says he tried to get volunteer support to help build and maintain trails, but 11 people showed up to his Wednesday night trail workshops over a two-year period.
"It's sad, man. There are so many riders out there, but so few trail builders, I would like to be able to build and maintain all the trails in the valley, but it's a hell of a lot of work," he says.
Last weekend, he saw a pack of riders emerge from A River Runs Through It in the pouring rain, covered in mud. The damage to the trail from wet weather riding is tough to repair and Swanstrom says riders in the valley have got to pull their brains out of their fanny packs or there will be no trail to ride.
"That's just plain stupid," he says. "If it's so wet mud is squishing out of your tires go somewhere that's got more gravel to ride. It's about responsibility, if no one else wants to take any, I don't want to take it all."
Swanstrom's outlaw trail builder days may be over, but he doesn't want to retire from the singletrack yet.
As we walk along the bottom section of danimal, Swanstrom points out his trail artistry, the places where he broke rocks, the places where he hauled dirt in with a wheelbarrow to fill switchbacks, the waterbars he put in.
"I just like getting outside and building trail," says Swanstrom as he bends over to pick up a large rock. "It gives me time to think about stuff, it makes you feel good. I'm not ready to quit yet, but I'm not ready to carry one without a little more support."
Too bad for all of Swanstrom's fans — the legions of trail riders you can see spinning through A River Runs Through It with big grins on their faces. As a final note, Swanstrom says he is still going to maintain his trails, so don't bother moving the tough obstacles he has built.
Don't change the trail to suit your riding style, upgrade your riding style to suit the trail. And try doing a little trail maintenance yourself — it's not like it's illegal or anything.