After debate that divided environmentalists and biking advocates, the Capital Regional District approved its regional parks mountain biking guidelines and a list of short-term actions at its May 12 meeting.
The guidelines will consider new biking opportunities in CRD parks if they’re compatible with each park’s specific plan. Mountain biking trails won’t be sited near sensitive habitats or where they’d conflict with wildlife – and won’t be supported in all parks.
Mountain biking will also be considered during parks strategic planning this fall.
The guidelines say mountain biking decisions will honour First Nation relationships with the land and water and protect important cultural values.
Larisa Hutcheson, the CRD’s general manager of parks and environmental services, said there’s currently a lack of mountain biking opportunities based on the increasingly popular activity’s demand. She said the CRD is improving Mount Work biking trails and will review developing areas in Thetis Lake Regional Park for the sport.
Many directors supported looking into acquiring land that’s less ecologically valuable, compared to biodiverse parks, for mountain biking.
“The guidelines that have been presented do what they were intended to do, which was to figure out within our parks system – which exists primarily for the purpose of protecting ecological values – how can we incorporate this,” said vice-chair Rebecca Mersereau.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said bikers are seeing an unmaintained trail system collapse and have been waiting for over a decade for more action.
Several directors noted that the opposing groups share the goal of being stewards of the environment.
“There have been points of view expressed that have been quite similar, but just see different uses happening in the parks,” said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.
Many directors believe that a balance can be struck between protecting the environment and giving bikers a place to ride in nature.
Victorai Coun. Ben Isitt said protection and restoration of the ecology should always be the guiding principle when it comes to park lands. He added there should be designated, maintained trails and any cycling outside of the trail network should be strictly enforced.
“Mountain biking has to be supported and I see this as really the starting point,” said Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch. “Mountain bikers are allies in natural protection and will be if we give them that chance.”
Highlands Mayor Ken Williams said bikers have damaged areas near important drinking water reservoirs in his community. “Our experience hasn’t been good,” he said.
A communication campaign explaining the biking guidelines will roll out in June.
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