Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Submission re: South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan Draft Trail Plan

This document is being submitted to the City of Ottawa South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan public consultation process.

If you attended the March 2, 2009 public meeting please let the city know your views on the plan. If you could not attend the meeting become informed and make your views known.

For more information, or to make your views known, please contact:

David Miller
Program Manager, Environmental Sustainability
City of Ottawa
4th floor, 110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1J1
Phone: 613-580-2424, ext. 21447
Fax: 613-580-2459
E-mail: david.miller@ottawa.ca

You may also wish to let your city councillor know about your views.

Contact Information for City Councillors


Introduction

I am a lifelong environmentalist and outdoorsperson who hikes, mountain bikes, skis and snowshoes in the South March Highlands.

In this document “trail” will refer to natural rugged single track trails and “pathway” will refer to wide hard packed gravel-stone dust pathways. As there are no official trail names provided in the plan I will refer to trails according to the names on the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) Trail Map.

Reference Maps (click on maps to enlarge)

Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) Trail Map



City of Ottawa Map of Proposed Trail System Annotated by Richard W. Woodley


(unfortunately the city's full colour-coded map of the proposed trails and pathways is not available to the public)


Overall Impressions of the Trail Plan

I have to say that the most important aspects of the plan are that it recognizes the principle of a shared trail system and the legitimacy of mountain biking as an activity on the trails. It also maintains the bulk of the existing trail system.

I do have concerns with some of the public perceptions out there and some calls for separate trail systems. My experience on the trails, whether on my bike or hiking, is that everyone shares the trails well with no problems.

Trillium Woods

The Trillium Woods Trail is currently a naturally rugged trail and a very enjoyable trail for beginner and intermediate level mountain bikers, as well as hikers. It would fit the yellow classification in the city's plan.

In my original submission to the city I stated:
As an environmentalist and serious hiker and mountain biker my first and primary concern is that the trails be kept in their natural rugged state and be retained as natural surface single track trails.
The Trillium Woods is described in the city's plan as the most environmentally important and sensitive part of the South March Highlands. That being the case I might have expected possible trail closures in that area. Indeed the Trillium Woods Trail has begun to widen and my recommendation would be for mitigation measures to be taken to restore the trail to its natural single track state.

However the draft plan proposes the most environmentally damaging option for the Trillium Woods Trail, and that is to turn it into a widened hard packed gravel-stone dust pathway.

The only possible reason for that is because of it's proximity to development and houses. As an environmentalist I find this to be unconscionable.

The Beaver Pond

The area along the Beaver Pond will have pathways.

I stated in my original submission:
There has also been the possibility of wheelchair access pathways suggested. Despite the potential benefits of this, I do not wish to see the natural ruggedness and wilderness-like nature of the protected area compromised. One possibility is to build such a pathway around the “Beaver Pond”. This would also provide a place for casual walkers to enjoy the forest without ending up on the rugged natural trails in their high heels or sandals.
Kanata Lakes

The remaining protected Kanata Lakes lands on the other side of Goulbourn Forced Road will also have pathways.

It will be sad to see the eventual loss of the natural trails in the old Kanata Lakes system but due to it's proximity to development and housing, it's distance from the main natural rugged trail system, and the small amount of area left and the desire to provide a balanced mix of trails and pathways, this may be a reasonable place to put pathways. To be honest, I really do not want to see the loss of these natural rugged trails but I am trying to be balanced and open minded here.

The Hydro Cut and New Pathway

The Hydro Cut is unsustainable as it is, being a mud hole for much of the hiking and biking season. It is appropriate to turn it into a pathway.

I have no comments on the new pathway at the end of the hydro cut.

Second Line Extension and Bear Claw Trail

The Second Line Extension was a forest road, although it has started to narrow in sections. I have no objections to it becoming a pathway.

Bear Claw Trail is a different matter. It is a wonderful fun beginner to intermediate level mountain bike and hiking trail. It would fit the yellow classification in the city's plan.

While I can accept the need for some easy pathways to serve all members of the public. I think what has been provided, including giving up all the natural rugged trails in the old Kanata Lakes System, is sufficient and another wonderful natural trail should not be sacrificed.

Trail Closures

It would have been nice to have some documentation on the reasons for the trail closures, though one can speculate that some of it was done to rationalize the system and eliminate duplicate parallel trails.

Closure of Easier Trails: Rockhopper Jr., Rockhopper Extension and M-Line (and Widening Bridges on Inner and Outer Thigh)

I can only speculate that these trails are being closed as a form of trail rationalization as they are relatively short sections of trail and overall the bulk of the trail system remains. M-Line may indeed be untenable due to its proximity to Terry Fox Drive (when built). However it is unfortunate as there is a limited amount of beginner level trails in the system.

As a mitigating measure, to increase the amount of beginner-friendly trails, I would propose that the Inner Thigh and Outer Thigh loops be made more beginner-friendly by widening the bridges to 24 inches, or eliminating them. There will still be sections of trail that are not beginner-friendly but that is the nature of natural trails and it provides an incentive to try something harder. However, the bridges are particularly intimidating to beginners because of their length and their narrowness.

Closure of the Southwestern Section of Rock Hopper

The plan proposes to close part of Rockhopper Trail, turning what was a loop trail into a dead end. Unless there is significant environmental reason (and none was given at the public meeting when I asked) it does not make sense to turn a loop trail into a dead end. This proposed trail closure needs to be rethought and the trail restored to its original loop. Incidentally the section of trail that is being closed is the easiest section of the trail.

Multiple Trails Combined Into One

There are a number of trails leading to Outback (Garter Belt, Ridgetop, Annex, Pasture and Gateway, etc.) where there are sections of separate trails running parallel and close to each other. While each of these trail does provide different terrain and riding experiences they are not all necessary to provide access to that part of the forest and I assume their conversion into one trail is based on the principle of trail rationalization.

Former Dark Side Trails

A number of trails that existed on former private property that has just recently been added to the city owned lands have been off limits for a number of years and were known as the Dark Side. The plan does not propose to reopen these trails but rather to close them. It would be useful to know the reasons for this decision. Without knowing that I cannot really support or oppose that decision.

Winter User Conflicts

As a cross-country skier I know that winter is the time when there are potential trail user conflicts, particularly with walkers who walk on the ski tracks making big holes that make skiing difficult.

Snowshoers tend to make their own separate trails, but even if they do go over the ski trails, they just flatten them rather than punching deep holes, making it still possible to ski the trail without too much difficulty.

Mountain bikers, on the other hand, tend to avoid the trails when they are skiable, because of the difficulty riding (and the fact that they would prefer to be skiing when the trails are skiable). Mountain bilkers prefer windows of opportunity when there is a freeze after a thaw (before more snow falls) and the trails are hard and frozen making ideal conditions for biking with studded tires but lousy conditions for skiing.

Public Education

The final, but perhaps most important part of the plan, should be public education on environmentally friendly and sustainable trail use, including respect for other trail users - share the trail. The education campaign should stress that trail users should stay on the designated trails. As well it should encourage trail users to avoid wet muddy trails but advise them to use the centre of the trail, not go alongside and widen it, if they do need to go through wet muddy sections.

Public education should also address the winter user conflicts and how to avoid them (don't walk on the ski tracks).

Signage at the trail heads should include large trail maps on the signs along with responsible trail use guidelines. As well pamphlets with a map of the trails and the guidelines should be available.

The Public Consultation Process: Lack of Information

In my response to the city's presentation at the April 30, 2008 Open House I stated:
Afterwards, I immediately went to the City of Ottawa website to see if I could review the maps and other documentation. However, as is usual whenever I go to the City of Website to look for planning or development information, I found it to be woefully inadequate.

It would be very useful if the public could access more details and background information on the City of Ottawa website in order to make better informed comments and suggestions.
The response I received from the city on May 12, 2008 was:
I noted your comment on the web site and I agree that we need to get materials there as we proceed with the process so I will be working to get material posted as soon as possible.
However nothing was posted and only recently very sparse information was posted on the City of Ottawa website at the link below.

City of Ottawa - South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan

None of the information or maps from the Open House or the recent presentation of the draft plan are available online. At the March 2, 2009 meeting I was assured again that they will look into making more information available on the website.

It is very difficult for a member of the public to participate meaningfully in this process without adequate information. In particular, not knowing any of the actual reasons for trail closures has left me having to speculate in preparing my response to the draft plan. This weakens the public consultation process, and some may argue renders it meaningless. I would not go that far but my ability to fully participate in the process has certainly been reduced by the lack of information available.

For more general comments see also:

Submission re: South March Highlands Conservation Forest Management Plan

The South March Highlands - Kanata’s Outdoor Wonderland

For information on mountain biking in Ottawa see:

Ottawa Mountain Bike Association Web Site.

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