rogue trails 

By Amy Fendley Reeling in the renegades, the rogue trail blazers and creating peace at last. An ongoing debate about user-built and maintained trails in Whistler continues, unresolved. The Whistler Off Road Cycling Association has been opposing trail closures for 10 years. In fact, that was the main reason WORCA came to be. BC Parks wanted to close trailheads at Singing Pass, Cheakamus Lake, and Red Heather Ridge to mountain biking. On the other side of the equation are people like Max Gotz, a recreational user of natural areas, identifying with bird watchers and naturalists. The vice president of AWARE, Gotz is not new to the concept of trails as permanent structures. Gotz feels the issue is about people building trails illegally, and whether the people with the authority to stop them are turning a blind eye. "I think people are forgetting about incidences like the American tourist who broke her neck a few years ago — a half-million dollar law suit to a private property owner," said Gotz. "Not to mention, many trails are becoming big and less attractive. They’re not integrated into the perspective, into the big picture by planners. Why do I have to do things not to offend, and why are these people without permits going ahead?" WORCA is paying attention. The group has a new trail policy which promises to enforce certain measures of standardizing and grading cross-country, free-ride and straight descents. The policy will also address fall-line trails, which Paul Rawlinson, WORCA’s director of trails, admits are not the best for the environment. "There is a low percentage of people who use those type of trails, and in our eyes it’s a threat to use them. We don’t condone rogue trails." Earlier this week WORCA’s board of directors attended a presentation in Vancouver by the International Mountain Biking Association, to discuss issues and views on trail maintenance, which Rawlinson says was a success. Meanwhile, the municipality is continuing its building efforts on the 16 Mile Creek Trail, a comprehensive single-track which runs to Callaghan Valley, going through the tedious process of applications through the Forest Practices Code. "We’ve had a couple of incidences where private property owners have come to us," said Keith Bennett, manager of parks operations for the RMOW. "There are definitely some issues. Everybody uses these trails and whether or not they question their legality is another issue. It hasn’t come to a head yet, but at some point it might. This is a trespass situation. A trail should be built to last and not affect the terrain around it." But Gotz says many of the trails are not being properly maintained and are damaging to the lands around them. "River Runs Through It is obviously a bad trail, strictly for mountain bikers with nothing to integrate with the environment. The original trail disturbs the land around it," said Gotz. "Erosion control is becoming a bigger problem as we introduce traffic into areas where there shouldn’t be any. "A lot of people are pretty ignorant about other user groups who they might be conflicting with," he says. "It’s unsettling that muni has no inclination to deal with it, so it becomes a free-for-all backcountry. Guys are jet boating in the Soo Valley, running 4x4 and ATV tours in the alpine. There are no provincial or federal environmental regulations. We’re having to reel in renegades who don’t want to listen to anybody," said Gotz. The large percentage of the non-vocal backpackers, which includes those who hike trails within the Sea to Sky Corridor, bring $40 billion in revenue to B.C. annually. "These people are usually very well educated and knowledgeable and don’t need a lot of services," says Gotz. "There is a current trend of building trails on the outskirts of provincial parks. This is very damaging." Rawlinson agrees. "The word is out there that they (the trails) are not being looked after," he said. "These guys need to build the trails responsibly because there’s a lot of user groups starting to look at us in a bad light." It is the general public who use rogue trails, as many are accessible off roads and other trails, but WORCA says it doesn’t promote them and feels there should be greater emphasis on educating people on the subject. "We don’t promote rogue trail building at all," says Rawlinson. "We’re meeting with our trail committee this month to draft a trail policy and will try to educate people on how to build responsibly. "We’ve got to get out there and get some pressure on these guys who are so proud of building trails, to be proud of maintaining the existing trails. The thing is that your cool if you build a trail, but your not cool if you maintain them. It’s becoming an art form and an ego statement." User-built and maintained trails are being built on private and Crown land, in many cases without the approval of land owners or Section 102 of the forest practices code, which deals with the use of forested land by people outside of the forest industry. "Whistler Blackcomb has always allowed us on their property," said Rawlinson. "But they’re starting to get renegades building on the mountain and they’re not pleased. "A giant cross-section of the society is getting involved in mountain biking, and there is a percentage of riders who are so extreme that the trails they seek are the same ones your general novice would attempt with only a pair of hiking boots." Aside from normal maintenance and construction, this year’s Forest Renewal B.C. grant has been used by the municipality to fund trail projects such as Rainbow, the Interpretative Forest, House Rock, the Showh Lakes, and Jane Lakes. "We’re working on the Flank Trail, which is situated on Crown Land," said Bennett. "It was created as part of a negotiation with BC Rail lands. But overall, we’re in a pretty good situation in Whistler."

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