You’d be forgiven for thinking the Whistler Off-Road Cycling Association (WORCA) could be the one community group that wouldn’t necessarily suffer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After all, bikes were flying off the shelves throughout the spring and summer, and the great outdoors—including mountain bike trails—were heralded as a safe place to spend time and catch up with your “bubble.” Out of the many activities that have been cancelled this year, cross-country mountain biking wasn’t one of them.
But even still, you’d be wrong.
The organization’s plans for a new special event, the Back Forty, were scrapped, while a new-and-improved format for its annual Bike Swap was cancelled. In-person Toonie Rides suffered the same fate.
But the biggest challenge WORCA faced this year was finding new streams of funding for its trail crew, explained executive director Trevor Ferrao. During the initial onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization lost the majority of its Fee for Service funding for trail maintenance, with the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) dropping that grant from $120,000 to $40,000.
“We definitely had to look at different and new ways to find that money,” said Ferrao. Luckily, the organization managed to qualify for the federal government’s Emergency Wage Subsidy, which effectively kept WORCA afloat, and, alongside donations from its supporters, enabled the organization to spend more on trails in 2020 than it did the year before—$134,000, to be exact.
But while usage of those trail networks spiked—TrailForks data shows some local trails, including the West Side trail network, saw double the amount of users in 2020 compared to the previous year, noted Ferrao—the number of WORCA members dropped, from 1,703 in 2019 to 1,332 this year.
“That’s a huge increase” in usage, said Ferrao. “Based on that, we’d like to see a lot more of those trail users become members and give back to the trails.
“That would really help us with just putting more money back into the trails—it’s definitely needed with the increased use that we’ve seen this year.”
In a year-end summary posted to WORCA’s website, Ferrao wrote that the drop in membership “is particularly discouraging, knowing that our trails received a higher volume of users than any other year, with the delayed opening of the [Whistler Mountain] Bike Park and so many people finding more time to ride.
“Having a WORCA membership shows that you care about the stewardship of the trails.”
Explained Ferrao during a phone interview with Pique: “The key message is that we’d like to see like all trail users—everyone that uses the Whistler trails—to become a WORCA member.”
He admitted, “The funds are a big part of that.” Not only do the funds raised through membership fees help maintain the trails, but they also help support trail advocacy.
“We really advocate for trail access and new trails, and we need membership numbers for that.”
Amidst the reduced funding from membership fees in 2020, “the big unknown for next year is how much we will receive from the RMOW,” Ferrao said.
“Our current Fee for Service agreement runs out at the end of this year, so we need to renew that and we’re not sure of the timing yet for getting that approved … based on that, we’re still trying to fundraise and receive donations, and so that’s kind of one of the big reasons for the current fundraiser that we have on.”
As part of that fundraiser, WORCA is raffling off a fully customized Knolly Chilcotin Bike, with tickets available for purchase online until 3 p.m. on Jan. 15.
Knolly has “really supported us and offered a free bike frame, which is amazing. It’s also a brand new bike [model] that they’ve just brought out, so that’s really, really helpful for us,” said Ferrao. Other sponsors, like Shimano Canada, Marzocchi, Race Face, Chromag and Onyx, have provided parts for the bike as well, he added.
The brand-new, one-of-a-kind enduro bike was put together by staff at Coastal Culture, and has an estimated value of over $8,000. It’s also “perfect for the trails that we have here,” Ferrao added.
Raffle tickets are on sale for $10 for one ticket, or $25 for three. Find them at worca.com.