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Letter: Trail survey highlights need for balance in North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve


Trail survey highlights need for balance in Municipal Forest Reserve

The results of a trail survey should give North Cowichan pause for thought on how trails are developed and maintained in the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.

The Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society and its volunteers do excellent work, but are primarily focused on mountain bike trails. Mount Tzouhalem and Maple Mountain are recognized as top mountain biking areas on Vancouver Island. And Mount Prevost (Swuq’us) is touted as a world-class, year-round site for expert riders.

But the Six Mountains of North Cowichan are enjoyed by many different trail enthusiasts.

To better understand how the trails are used, the society and Tourism Cowichan commissioned Vancouver Island University to conduct a survey late last year.

An overview of the survey results presented Friday to the municipality’s economic development committee showed that hikers and walkers combined represent almost 60 percent of trail users in North Cowichan and Cobble Hill compared with mountain bikers at 30 percent.

In fact, hiking and walking outscored mountain biking across the board, including Mount Tzoulahem and Maple Mountain.

At Mount Prevost, the society and North Cowichan — which received grant funding — have upgraded a slew of downhill bike trails. Yet even here, hiking and walking scored 61.9 percent versus mountain biking at 26.9 percent.

And there isn’t even one official trail just for hikers on Mount Prevost; most hikers currently follow a trail that goes through private property.

This despite the fact that the North Cowichan Parks and Trails Master Plan concluded in 2017 that Mount Prevost should focus on “more advanced downhill, shuttle based, mountain biking experiences for intermediate to advanced riders; as well as hiking experiences.”

All of this is important to North Cowichan taxpayers.

Council donates annually to the society, including $172,969 in 2023. That’s a fair chunk of money.

Given the survey results, council should ensure that future work on the trails better recognizes the forests’ dominant users — hikers and walkers.

It is not about choosing sides – far from it — but simply a matter of balance and fairness.

Larry Pynn

Maple Bay