A North Cowichan resident has warned councillors that the municipality is “appeasing the cycling community” in its new Parks and Trails Master Plan.
Ian Milne is worried there is “a definite leaning towards the takeover of the municipal forest reserve by recreation and mountain bike interests in particular.”
He said another big concern was that bikers are pushing other recreationists off trails with their aggressive behaviour.
“I walk or run through parts of the forest; I frequently experience a lack of etiquette by cyclists. I was on Mt. Prevost and received an absolutely abusive attack by a cyclist and I know that’s not uncommon,” Milne said.
“In the plan there’s far too much appeasing of the cycling community and not enough to ensure the safe use of the forest by all users.”
Milne added that “the downhill mountain bikers are the most dangerous. That must be addressed.”
Milne spoke to North Cowichan council at its Nov. 16 meeting.
He knows the area well.
“I’ve been a user of the forest reserve for close to 50 years and I have strong feelings about [it].”
Milne said that after reading the parks and trails document, “I did get the feeling that there’s a strong position within the community and perhaps within this building for the forest reserve becoming more of a recreational park than a working forest. I think that would be a mistake, especially given the strides over the last 35 years in sound forest management practices.”
Milne explained he has some expertise in that area himself and has watched the improvement.
Since the 1970s, the silvicultural practices in the area “have been turned around to the point where the forest is a showcase for sound forest management practices,” he said. “Much of what I read in the report, I believe, would reverse that.”
Milne was also concerned about private investment in the reserve.
“Please say no to any branding or marketing of our forest. If we manage the forestry values first the forest reserve will continue to be a positive financial contributor to the municipality. And you can forget that other nonsense,” he said.
He then cited what he called “an example of how municipal lands can be hijacked by the cycling community”: the property at the corner of Genoa and Maple Bay Roads.
That municipal land, “which is the only piece accessible by foot by people within the urban core of Maple Bay is now full of downhill mountain bike trails, ridges, and tree-cutting, none of which has had any municipal permission that I’m aware of.”
Walkers are finding it tougher to enjoy some time there because of encounters with downhill bikers.
“That’s just an example of the anarchistic attitude of some in the cycling community,” Milne said.
North Cowichan councillors, who were taking their first official notice of the parks and trails document, decided they wanted to discuss it thoroughly at a committee of the whole meeting first before bringing it to the council table again for action.
They were asked by CAO Dave Devana to each give some quick hints of areas where they had concerns or where language could be tweaked before that big discussion.
Devana said part of the reason for developing a firm parks and trails plan was to deal with unauthorized trails, to control some of the problems that Milne had raised.
Several councillors echoed Milne’s worries about the proliferation of cycling trails and Coun. Rob Douglas joined Milne in being concerned about exploring the possibility for campsites, cabins, and food services in the forest reserve, adding “another concern with food concessions is that it will mean more garbage, more trash.”
Douglas said he thought there was a lot of public worry already about the idea of corporate sponsorship in North Cowichan parks.
He asked if North Cowichan’s plans to hire an additional bylaw enforcement officer would help with problems on trails and that the “degradation of parts of Mt. Tzouhalem” could be halted by getting rid of some unauthorized trails.
Devana said a good overview would be needed to see which ones the municipality wanted to support and which others should be deactivated.
Coun. Maeve Maguire said that while she liked the idea of offering cycling trails as a boost for the economy, she recognized that there have been problems with trying to accommodate both hikers and bikers in some areas. Maguire also said she wanted to see North Cowichan make more effort to communicate with the public about any changes planned.
Parks and trails director Ernie Mansueti said there are also possible problem properties where “cultural” or “historic” trespassing could become an issue as North Cowichan sites are adjacent to First Nations land.
That subject needs a lot of careful work, he suggested.
Both Douglas and Coun. Al Siebring wanted wording softened on something else: the idea of the municipality building a connector between York Road and Somenos Marsh.
“I know there’s going to be pushback on [that],” Siebring said.
Devana said a connector is included in the roads and sidewalks budget for 2019 but it’s still in the design stage.
“If you want to water down the wording, it is up to you. We have met with Cowichan Tribes, we believe there are quite a few benefits. It’s a $1.7 million project,” he said.
Coun. Tom Walker asked how much council’s hands are tied.
Devana said that staff wanted council to approve it, but “only when you are comfortable.”
A good discussion at committee of the whole could be useful “but “this is really important. It decides how 25 per cent of our municipality is managed,” Devana said.
Walker suggested an extra meeting be held to consider all sides of the question.
“There’s got to be a balance between a working forest and recreation,” he said.
“There’s a spiritual value in the forest. I’m a little scared the pendulum is swinging too fast from a working forest.”
Siebring said he was concerned where the character of the municipal forest might change so much that it might reach a point where people might become concerned because right next to “their park” was an active logging area.
“I think we need to be perfectly clear. First and foremost this is a working forest that includes logging. I’d like to have that clarity up front. This is a jewel: a financial asset, a social asset,” he said.
Siebring also agreed with Ian Milne that “the whole Maple Bay/Genoa Bay area behind the firehall needs to be addressed.”
He also called for information to help potential hikers, things to hand out at tourist information centres.
“There’s not a lot of good conventional literature saying how long the trails are, or the degree of difficulty,” Siebring said.