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Hiking-only trails request sets mountain bikers on edge

More respect on the trails needed, not separation, says one local rider

A lone letter to council, calling for hiking-only trails in Whistler, has raised community ire, sparking debate about the growing use of local trails.

Bill Moore raised the issue of conflict on the trails in a letter to council last week, suggesting it would be good have some hiking trails free of mountain bikers. He suggested the area around the Riverside Trail and the Whistler Interpretative Forest would be a good first step. That letter was quickly referred to staff and the recreation and leisure committee at the last council meeting.

"It seems like a knee-jerk reaction," said mountain biker Todd Hellinga, of the referral to look into the matter based on one letter.

"I was a little surprised reading the paper that they moved so quickly to refer it to staff."

Hellinga, who spends hours every week on the local trails, has yet to run into a conflict after more than a decade in Whistler.

But that is not the case for everyone.

"I have been down there hiking many times and had close calls with mountain bikers who are riding much too fast on these winding and hilly multi-use trails," wrote Moore to council. "I have also talked to many visitors to Whistler who are recommended to hike these trails and have had close calls or less than great experiences with mountain bikers."

Councillor Andrée Janyk, who is the council rep on the Recreation and Leisure Advisory Committee (RLAC), said she has had several calls and conversations about conflicts on the trails, particularly in Riverside where she too likes to run.

"I've heard from lots of people who have had issues down there," she said.

The area is ideal for beginner or intermediate bikers with its flowy terrain, but it also holds appeal for hikers and dog walkers and runners, too. It is one of the few areas of gentle terrain in Whistler, known for its difficult climbs and descents.

"I think it comes down to etiquette and signage," said Janyk.

That's just what Hellinga says too; separating the uses should be a last resort.

"We need to just tell people to respect each other," he said. "We skip over the stuff we should do right away and people throw out these suggestions that should be kind of a last resort.

"I firmly believe that separating users is like: 'We have tried everything and nothing has worked and this is a last resort.'"

The issue strikes a chord however given the so called "war in the woods" in the Lower Mainland — conflict between mountain bikers and hikers on the trails in North Vancouver, which led to criminal charges against a 64-year-old woman accused of setting booby traps on the trails this year.

In Whistler there has been a flurry of Facebook activity taking issue with council's direction to look into the matter.

Municipal communications manager Michele Comeau reiterated this week that no decisions have been made.

One of the next steps in response to this letter will be discussion at the next RLAC meeting. That meeting is scheduled for May 7.

"Whistler's trail philosophy has historically been to build Whistler parks, trails and Valley Trail for multi-use purposes," said Comeau in an email.

"Any changes would require careful review, consideration and due process."

Among the suggestions from community members to take the pressure off potential conflict is to remind runners to take out their earphones so they can hear people approaching; dog walkers need to keep dogs close at hand; and mountain bikers need to slow down a little and keep their heads up.

One suggestion on Facebook is that the Riverside Trail should be one-way.

"We're all trying to get the same feeling, just through different experiences," said Hellinga. "To me, that's the important thing that tends to get overlooked."

The RLAC meeting will take place at municipal hall on May 7 at 4:30 p.m. It is an open meeting.