Some users of the Cowichan Valley Trail are taking exception to the bad habits of others.
The multi-use trail, an integral part of the Trans Canada Trail route on Southern Vancouver Island, is popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders, but fears are being raised that the lack of etiquette on the trail by some users, particularly cyclists, could lead to someone getting hurt.
Nancy Hendry, an equestrian from the Skutz Falls area, is on the trail twice a day and said there is no right-of-way on the trail, so passing is dependent on common sense.
However, she said common sense seems to be in short supply when it comes to horses, especially amongst many of the bike riders.
Hendry said horses should be approached from behind by those about to overtake them on the trail in a “slow and wide” manner, and a warning should be given from several metres away by bell and/or voice.
“Horses are prey animals with peripheral vision, so if a bike approaches quietly and fast, even a good horse will react,” she said.
“I have talked to many people about the ‘boy racers’ who ride the trail as if it were a racetrack, and I find that pedestrians and ‘average’ cyclists are also being spooked by inconsiderate bike riders.”
Avril Cree also regularly rides her horse on the trail and has faced many of the same problems as Hendry.
She said her horse, Diamond, is experienced and used to sharing the trail with others users, but even Diamond is sometimes spooked by “inconsiderate” cyclists.
“Many of the bikes don’t slow down when approaching, and don’t warn you they are coming, which can be very unnerving for horses, even experienced ones,” Cree said.
“A startled horse could knock people off their bikes. I love it when cyclists approaching from behind yell out ‘I’m coming behind you on a bike’. The horse knows they are coming then and won’t get startled. Normally, most of the cyclists are good and respectful, but a few of them won’t slow down and warn you they are coming, creating the potential for a dangerous situation.”
Patricia Gray, who has had similar encounters with her horse on the trail and has even been verbally abused after suggesting to passing bikers that they should be more careful around her horse, has decided to take the bull by the horns and try to deal with the issue.
She has been in contact with the Horse Council of B.C. who have educational pamphlets and documents to help educate cyclists that she intends to distribute in the Valley.
Gray said she and other advocates have also begun visiting local bike shops to raise awareness of the issue.
“Some of us are also approaching the Cowichan Valley Regional District to see if we can have signage placed along the trail that would teach all trail users the proper etiquette when approaching each other, regardless if the users are walking, on bikes or horses,” she said.
“Good signage is easily available if the district is interested.”
Brian Farquhar, the CVRD’s manager of parks and trails, said the district is always open and receptive to ideas that ensure trail users are aware of the expectations of them while on the trail.
He said the district has only recently become aware of any significant conflicts between trail users, and placing trail-etiquette signs at trail entrances in the areas of concern is probably a good idea.
“We would look to replicate what some other jurisdictions have had success with in the way of placing signage,” Farquhar said.
“I think this a good reflection of just how popular the Cowichan Valley Trail has become. But all users should be aware of the expectations on them, and that they should share the trail with others in a respectful manner.”