Winter Trail Conflicts on the Greenbelt Trails

Submission to the National Capital Commission Greenbelt Master Plan Review - Part 2

By Richard W. Woodley, environmentalist, hiker, mountain biker, snowshoer, cross country skier, kayaker

In my previous submission on the Greenbelt Master Plan Review I discussed how well trail sharing amongst the various trail users worked on the Greenbelt trails during the spring, summer and fall.

Unfortunately I cannot say the same about the winter season. The main conflict, of course, is between cross-country skiers who like track set trails and walkers/hikers who walk through the track set trails punching deep holes in them.

Many skiers resent the walkers and many walkers feel they have just as much right to use the trails as the skiers. While I do not believe the conflict will ever be eliminated there may be a way to reduce it.

I believe the solution lies in encouraging the hikers/walkers to use snowshoes and provide dedicated trails for them, or at least publicise the dedicated trails that I just discovered exist as indicated on the official NCC trail map.

I would suggest the NCC, in partnership with snowshoe manufacturers and retailers undertake a snowshoe lending program. The partners would provide the snowshoes and lenders would receive information on where to purchase the snowshoes they are borrowing, as well as information on all the program participants. It only takes about one outing to realize it is a lot easier walking the trails with snowshoes than boots and that they do not punch deep holes in the trails. This will go a long way to reducing the conflict, because even on the ski trails snowshoes do less damage than boots - they may pack down the tracks but they do not punch deep holes in them. However if enough appropriate snowshoe trails are available many of the walkers/hikers may choose to snowshoe on them rather than walk on the ski trails.

In this context, I would also like to address the issue of winter mountain biking. For the last few years, within the South March Highlands, mountain bikers have been creating winter trails by packing the trails down using snowshoes and have demonstrated that snowshoeing and mountain biking are indeed compatible on the same trails. Mountain biking on packed trails simply leaves a track, similar to a cross-country ski track. Indeed it is not practical to mountain bike on trails if you are sinking deep into the snow and creating holes or ruts. So I would suggest that to get the maximum use out of the designated snowshoeing trails that mountain biking also be allowed on them.

I have attached maps of suggested routes for shared snowshoeing and mountain biking trails. I have chosen trails that are less cross-country ski friendly due to their terrain.

It was after creating those maps that I noticed the increased number of snowshoeing designated trails on the on the NCC Greenbelt Trail Map. I was surprised to see Jack Pine designated as snowshoe trail and Trail 11 designated as a ski trail. I think it would be better to designate trails that are less skier friendly as snowshoe trails and the most popular ski trail as ski trails. Although Jack Pine would make an ideal beginner winter mountain biking trail, frankly I do not believe the skiers will stop using Jack Pine. The vast majority probably do not even know of its designation as a snowshoe trail rather than a ski trail.

Encouraging walkers to switch from using boots on ski trails to using snowshoes on snowshoe trails is going to take more than just putting red dots on a chart on the official map that few people actually look at. It is going to require a concerted effort and campaign to encourage snowshoeing on the designated trails, a campaign that should include allowing and encouraging mountain bikers to use the snowshoe trails.

(click on maps to enlarge)

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