It was unfortunate to read of the one-sided, negative picture of trail use as reported by Lexi Bainas in the Citizen on Nov. 23. As long-time users of this outstanding trail network and directors of the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society, we want to express our sympathy to the affected trail user and at the same time make it clear that the description made of anarchy and abusive behaviour on the trails is simply not accurate.
The vast majority of interactions on our local trails are ones of mutual respect, community spirit and trail stewardship. One only needs to spend a few moments at one of the trailheads of either Mt. Tzouhalem, Maple Mountain or Mt. Prevost to taste the thick flavour of personal enjoyment, pride, camaraderie, fever for the outdoors and love of physical exercise.
The perceived conflict of hikers versus bikers is simply not a true phenomenon. This is a fabricated battle used by those who wish to sway opinion for their own benefit. There will always be those trail users, hikers or bikers alike, who will have a hard time getting along with the “other side” and we would suggest that it has more to do with those users themselves.
There is little doubt, that a small subsection of the community on both sides of the coin will become inflamed at the slightest friction. This may be more due to a false sense of ownership than a true experience of conflict and negativity. There will be those on the mountain biking side who claim dominion over trails and aggressively demand that all others clear a path. Likewise, there will be those on the hiking side who defend the same ownership position and will stop at nothing to bar all users other than themselves. Thankfully, they are the one per cent. The other 99 per cent are not a vocal group. They don’t make headlines in the paper. They simply use this maturing trail system by the thousands, quietly going about their business, adding to the economy, bettering their health, socially interacting like adults and working together with smiles on their faces and good words for their neighbours. Their stories are not heard and not used to sway councillors at municipal meetings. Maybe, now, that will change.
This is not a new story. Many other communities have suffered the same poorly targeted criticism of trail users. Only through education and positive communication can we move past such a narrow minded perception of those who build, maintain and use the vast trail networks in the Cowichan Valley. Unfortunately, etiquette is not innate and must be learned.
The concerns expressed by the user in the article must be heard and taken into consideration. The number of hikers and bikers will only increase in the future. The CTSS was born out of conflict on Maple Mountain and has worked towards bringing the existing trail network out of the shadows. Our mandate is to develop and maintain mixed-use trails for hikers and bikers in a sustainable fashion. We have worked closely with the Municipality of North Cowichan and various user groups over the last three years in order to decrease the negative consequences that every successful organic trail system encounters. Part of our aim is to upgrade the existing trails with accurate difficulty and trail use designations, and educate users on etiquette through the application of appropriate signage. We also know that trails can exist in a working forest without a significant impact on harvesting practices and silviculture activities. This was demonstrated last year with regards to a cut block on Mt. Tzouhalem, and has been proven in similar resource-based communities such as Squamish and Cumberland.
It is our intention to foster a spirit of cooperation on our trails. There is no need for divisiveness and polarization; nor is there a benefit. There are ample resources available to satisfy all users, including forestry practices. As Councillor [Tom] Walker suggests, we just need to find the balance. Please send us your input and get involved at (CTSSDirector@gmail.com).
Dr. Tom Roozendaal
President, Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society