Concerned about the destruction of popular riding trails through logging and reduced access in general to private forest lands, Nanaimo mountain bikers are meeting this weekend to vote on whether to pursue formal land-use agreements with private land owners.
Sunday’s vote, organized by the Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club executive, will define the club’s role in future trail management activities, which could affect the future of mountain biking in the area.
Nanaimo currently boasts world-class riding in areas like Cinnabar Valley, Doumont Road, and along the Abyss and Humility trails near Extension. Nanaimo trails are host to the renowned B.C. Bike Race, as well as annual Island Cup and locally organized races.
Until now, private forest companies have mostly tolerated informal trail building and mountain bike use on their properties, but as activity in the backcountry grows for mountain biking and other user groups, forest companies are beginning to restrict access.
Humility and the Abyss, one of the area’s most popular cross-country trails and part of the Trans Canada Trail, has already suffered extensive damage through logging. Roller Coaster, a narrow, twisty descent through second-growth forest, popular with downhill riders, is also slated to be logged.
Bill McMillan, spokesman for the club, said the sport, which is exploding in popularity around the world and generating huge economic dividends in nearby locales such as Whistler, Squamish and Cumberland, is at a fork in the trail in Nanaimo.
“We’re not anti-logging, not at all,” said McMillan. “It’s what keeps the economy going around here. We just want to make sure we’ve got continued access to their land both before and after they log it. But the writing is on the wall. Up until now it’s been casual access – forest companies haven’t done much to prevent non-motorized access to their property. But that will inevitably change and we need to make some kind of formal agreement.”
The mountain bike club estimates three-quarters of local trails are on private land, which means most riders trespass when they mountain bike.
At Doumont, a popular network of trails at the end of Biggs Road, half the land trails are built on is owned by TimberWest and leased to Vancouver Island University. About one-quarter of the trails are on Crown land under Woodlot Licence No. 20.
The Abyss, Humility, Keith’s Trail, Cinnabar trails and Roller Coaster are all on private land. Another popular riding area, above Westwood Lake, is owned by the regional district or Department of National Defence.
Ultimately, if the club votes Sunday to pursue formal agreements, it means mountain biking in Nanaimo will need to take a quantum leap forward in organization, assuming land owners are willing to comply.
Property owners such as the City of Nanaimo, DND, TimberWest Forest Ltd. and the Regional District of Nanaimo have not had any formal communication with the club, and Island Timberlands, through three meetings with the club, has indicated its intention to control access to mountain bikers and other user groups when new licensing requirements kick in this fall.
That new licensing could result in fines, gear confiscation, individual licensing for riders or fees, but the company also indicated it would consider a non-exclusive use permit for the club at a cost of about $500 annually to let riders host events on its land, and maintain and use trails.
Morgan Kennah, spokeswoman for Island Timberlands, told the News Bulletin the company wants to reserve comment until after the mountain bike club’s vote.
McMillan said if formal groundwork for mountain biking can be established, the potential to attract riders from all over the world is real.
“Nanaimo has probably as much potential as any area in the Pacific Northwest to become a mountain biking destination, but there has been absolutely no focus on capitalizing on that and that’s one of the points we’re trying to drive. It all starts with access to these amazing trails we have and working from there. You can’t develop a tourism industry without the access.”
Cooperation with all stakeholders is also needed. Before Nanaimo can invite the world to come and mountain bike here, trail maintenance standards must be met to provide maximum enjoyment and reduced liability. To receive trail management insurance through the International Mountain Biking Association, the global standard for trail building of which NMBC is a member, local trails would have to be built to Whistler trail standards. That includes signage at the start of trails and at intersections, removing hazards in ‘fall zones’, signage for difficult trail features, environmental consideration such as erosion control, and approval by landowners.
“It’s a huge amount of work, no question, but the potential is massive to attract people here,” said McMillan. “We have this new Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation to drive tourism, and this is an opportunity to be a part of that.”
In other mountain bike meccas beyond B.C., economic offices are hitching their wagons to mountain bike tourism with great success as the sport becomes increasingly popular.
In New Zealand’s Whakarewarewa Forest, it is estimated that mountain biking brings in $10.2 million in revenue while the forest’s export revenue is worth $4.6 million. The nearby community of Rotorua produced a marketing DVD featuring mountain biking and released it to relevant media outlets, made the airport mountain bike friendly, promoted flights, and watched as the crowds arrived, according to the New Zealand Herald.
In Washington State, the U.S. Forest Service addressed illegal trail building by working with a mountain bike film crew, proposing stakeholders work together to promote mountain biking as an economic driver while protecting natural spaces from overuse. The resulting ‘bikeumentary’ is on a 250-stop world screening tour.
NMBC has about 60 members, but there are hundreds of local riders who use existing trail networks. The club is anticipating dozens of new members Sunday so they can be eligible to vote on the future of mountain biking in Nanaimo. McMillan said the executive is hoping to exit the meeting with a clear mandate.