Sunday, 29 April 2012

South March Highlands Mountain Bikers - Unlikely Trail Heroes

Unlikely, because more often than not the stereotypical view of mountain bikers is more likely to be as trail villains rather than trail heroes.

First, we have the well meaning but uninformed view of many who call themselves environmentalists that mountain biking damages trails, when the vast majority of the research indicates the impact is similar to hiking.

Then, we have perceived concerns of hikers envisioning people on scary looking full suspension mountain bikes, ignoring everyone else, speeding downhill towards them, when the reality is that mountain biking is not the Tour De France and mountain bikers on technical singletrack are usually not riding at racing speeds, primarily for their own safety.

And then we do have places where rogue mountain bikers rule and have little regard for other trail users or responsible trail use, but these are the real exceptions, even if they appear to be the stereotypical rule.

In the South March Highlands the mountain bikers are not seen as villains. This is partly due to a co-operative landowner, the City of Ottawa, and an open-minded and educated environmental community led by the South March Highlands Coalition.

However it is mostly because of the mountain bikers themselves and the leadership provided by the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA).

The mountain bikers in the South March Highlands have established a reputation for not only be respectful, courteous and friendly to other trail users but are respected and appreciated by them for the literally thousands of hours of work put into developing and maintaining a sustainable trail system that can be enjoyed by all trail users.

The mountain bikers started riding on existing trails, created by hikers, cross-country skiers and even dog-sledders and built on it, creating a sustainable trail system based on the IMBA stacked loop model where the further you get from the trailhead the more rugged and difficult the trails become. This is a model that serves both beginner and advanced hikers and mountain bikers well.

The mountain bikers put in literally thousands of hours of work on trail building and maintenance creating a sustainable trail system that avoids muddy areas and provides for proper drainage and erosion protection. As well as building a system that is less susceptible to rain damage they also educate and encourage riders not to ride in the mud, and when it is necessary to follow the rule of sticking to the middle of the trail to avoid trail widening.

But they have not done this in isolation from the community and other trail users but have worked with them and the landowner, the City of Ottawa, to develop a management plan for the South March Highlands Conservation Forest and the trail system and are about to sign a joint stewardship agreement with they City to manage the trail system.

They have already created a new map of the trail system and are just beginning to install comprehensive trail signs linked to it in a project where materials are funded by the City and volunteer labour provided by OMBA members. This is a project that will be appreciated by the whole community as this is a near wilderness trail system where people have often become lost on the trails.

Indeed, if you ask just about anyone you see on the trails you will find that in the South March Highlands the mountain bikers are not the villains, but rather the heroes that do so much to make the trails a wonderful experience for everyone that uses them.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Reflections

This has probably been the longest I have gone between blog posts, despite my best intentions, but as I said I have not abandoned you. I have simply been busy with other things mostly related to mapping and biking and the South Match Highlands struggle.

But I have also been using Twitter a lot to express my political and social opinions so if you see nothing new in this space look to the right for my Twitter Feed or go directly to it here.