Brought to you by Devinci Bikes
Written by Ryan Kuhn
Trail builders across British Columbia are picking up shovels and saws at a breakneck pace these days, which means greater opportunity for mountain bikers of all disciplines. However, the approach to where and how to develop trails diverges greatly. There are also more illegal mountain bike trails with significant stunt (“technical trail features” or TTFs) and jump features than ever before, pushing the sport to new heights, literally. However, the risk associated with these trails is significant to the builders, riders and those responsible for managing public lands.In part one of this series
we examined the new draft BC Trails Strategy
. John Hawking, BC trails manager for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts – the ministry now responsible for trail maintenance, development and promotion in British Columbia – explained how the new trail strategy originated, the process of public consultation, the key areas of concern and focus moving forward and the implementation of the strategy in the months and years ahead.
Pinkbike spoke with several mountain bike societies across BC that are actively managing mountain bike trails both as pilot projects under the Draft BC Strategy and on their own. In the second installment, we look at the Kamloops Bike Riders Association (KBRA) and the Burns Lake Mountain Bike Association (BLMBA). While the success of developing “official” and sustainable trail networks in these respective areas have evolved differently, the challenges and opportunities for the future are strikingly similar. Here’s where they came from, what they’re doing and the challenges they see moving forward.Beginnings
KBRA and the BLMBA are both relatively new societies. Both were formed in 2005 with similar goals to develop land use agreements to legitimize and manage existing trails, develop agreements that would put their trails officially on the map and to be able to successfully market what their communities have to offer in terms of mountain biking.
Kevin Derksen is the president of the BLMBA and a key figure in the mountain bike community in Burns Lake, located between Prince George and Smithers in north-central BC.
“Our priority is firstly to develop a world class trail system on two land use agreements, a 160 Acre private land lease with Burns Lake Community Forest called the Burns Lake Bike Park, as well as the newly formed Boer Mountain Recreation Area with the MoTCA trail management agreement covering an area in the scale of 4000 hectares,” says Derksen. “Second to the trail system, further development of the local riding scene through Cycling BC association membership and development of cycling events - most notably, the BLMBA hosts the annual Big Pig Bike Festival with 4 Cross races, Jump contest, ‘Full Boar’ Downhill, and ‘Dante's Inferno’ progressive cross country race.”
The KBRA was born to help facilitate the construction and management of the “Kamloops Bike Ranch” municipal bike park with the City of Kamloops, to secure a tenure agreement on the Harper Mountain trail network with the provincial government and to create a rider volunteer base to work together to enhance mountain biking opportunities in the Kamloops area.
“I picked up the reigns from the original crew of founding members, some of which are still actively involved,” says Thomas Bennett, president of the KBRA. “But the one thing that has remained is our collective intent to improve mountain biking opportunities in the Kamloops area and ensure they’re represented among multiple interests and uses on our preferred riding areas. We’ve got a good thing going and we want to keep it that way.”Piloting a course for the future
The initial discussion to develop a pilot land use agreement in Burns Lake was a result of networking with MoTCA representatives at the 2006 World Mountain Bike Conference in Whistler. Since that time, the BLMBA has secured insurance, conducted First Nations consultation, developed interim agreements for specific trail development prior to completion of the trail management strategy, and a great deal of discussion on risks, liabilities and strategies to minimize those inherent risks. Many other land use shareholders were consulted including trap line tenures and communications providers with operations on Boer Mountain.
“In the past, authorized trails required a lengthy process similar to the two-year process we've gone through with the BMRA agreement, but for each trail,” says Derksen. “Under the management agreement with MoTCA, the trails still require a proposal process of marking the location and providing GPS map and details on the specific trail to the MoTCA to ensure it falls within the agreement, but that is a much shorter time frame than in the past as the consultation process has already included new trail developments.”
The KBRA was working with local government staff from the Ministry of Forests and the new MoTCA before they entered into a pilot project agreement on Harper Mountain under the new draft Trails Strategy. Harper Mountain was a prime candidate for being a pilot project since the club was already well on its way towards meeting the requirements and objectives of the new draft Trail Policy.
Broad consultations occurred and the MOTCA provided seed money to help the KBRA get things going.
“That was a vital kick start to our club’s finances and allowed us to complete the first few requirements of the pilot project, including the GPS and mapping, a trail building workshop for our volunteers, and the basic tools and equipment for maintaining the trails and TTF’s,” says Bennett.
Volunteers and Tools
Both the BLMBA and the KBRA have generally adopted the Whistler Trail Standard guidelines and the IMBA trail solutions guidelines.
“What I appreciate about the program is that it does hold everyone to the same standards already established by the Whistler Trail Standard and the IMBA trail solutions guidelines,” says Derksen. “They haven't reinvented the wheel on risk management; they've adopted proven techniques from within the biking community and married those to the land use agreement and legal issues around land use. So we now have access to land that otherwise would not be available for authorized trail development.”
BLMBA’s current insurance policy on the private land where the Burns Lake Bike Park has been expanded to include any additional land use agreements, allowing them to move into the final agreement. Under that agreement, essentially the focus for the BLMBA is the blanket approval on trail development within the Boer Mt. Rec Area (BMRA).
In Kamloops, the GPS and mapping of the trails was very helpful. “Without the completed trail inventory, it is very difficult to discuss and plan other features of the trail networks,” says Bennett. “GPS locations, inventory sheets and photographs of the TTF’s on the trails were a major success, though quite time consuming to collect and record properly. It’s an excellent first step as you have to understand what’s out there on the trails and be able to talk about it over a map spread out on a table or a truck tailgate.”Volunteer burnout, time and money
“The biggest challenge is obviously the time lines involved,” says Derksen. “This project has seen no opposition from any level – there has been huge support from the community and buy in from the Village of Burns Lake, the Regional District - Bulkley Nechako, and the Burns Lake Community Forest.”
However, Dirksen says even with full support and little to no concerns during the consultation process, it has still taken over two years to reach a conclusion. A challenge they faced at the beginning was to run through the previous, lengthy Ministry of Forests process for individual new trails or to simply ignore the process altogether and build unauthorized trails.
“We're feeling we took the right path with the level of support we've received in our projects to-date,” says Derksen. “Those successes have seen the upgrade of two pre-existing multiuse trails (the Kager Lake trail and the Full Boar downhill trail, upgraded from a hiking trail to a downhill course for the Big Pig Bike Fest).”
The upgrade of the Full Boar trail has included strategic reroutes and trail feature construction from advice from the IMBA trail team led by Mark Schmidt in 2006, and the preliminary survey of Boer Mt by Dave Kelly and Rob Cocquyt in 2007.
“The Full Boar trail has been a great learning experience for all our trail builders and directors in how to create a great, unique and challenging riding experience for all levels of rider while still keeping within the guidelines for TTF and natural trail features,” he says.
Prior to the KBRA, Kamloops had virtually no legitimate, dedicated mountain biking trails in the community, which is ironic for a place that is an iconic location for freeriding in BC and the birthplace of many top professional riders. One-hit wonders and renegade trails were (and continue to be) all over the rolling, sage covered hills. From the onset, the KBRA had the goal of creating legitimate riding areas to address conflicts arising from trails such as the legendary “Rose Hill.”
The Kamloops Bike Ranch was a partnership between the society and the City of Kamloops to provide one such viable alternative. Parallel to that agreement, they pursued the Harper Mountain trail network agreement so future development plans would involve consultation with mountain bikers and to ensure existing and extensive trail features weren’t dismantled by forestry staff. Their agreement hasn’t come without challenges, however.
“The challenges of the strategy are almost all related to the administrative workload that is placed on small volunteer clubs such as ours.” says Bennett. “The annual paperwork, TTF and trail inspections, communications with all of the stakeholders in the area take time and effort on the part of a few volunteers who already have busy lives with jobs and families.”
For Bennett, the primary concern continues to be building the volunteer base to help with the trail maintenance and the administrative load of the tenure process.
“Government grants and community and industry sponsorship will be required in the long-term if the trail networks are to continue to grow and to be maintained to the high standards of the MoTCA strategy,” says Bennett.
Derksen agrees with Bennett. He says volunteer burnout is a key concern as are long-term sustainability from a financial perspective: “The BLMBA has been very successful in procuring funds for paying trail builders to get trails on the ground, but as funding sources for trail projects decrease, volunteers will be the single biggest asset in new trail and maintenance of current trails.”Trail building and education
The BLMBA has been involved in educating the riding community since its inception in 2005, benefiting from the direction from Mark Schmidt of IMBA Canada. The early assessment included a stressed need for education in trail development strategy. When Mark returned in 2006, they hosted a trails construction workshop with Mark for the club’s members. The BLMBA also sent nine members to the World Mountain Bike conference in Whistler to educate themselves in all areas of risk management. In the fall of 2006, Jay Hoots visited Burns Lake as a member of the IMBA team, and again returned in 2007 to help develop a Skills and Jump Park on the Burns Lake Bike Park, funded by the local Rotary Club.
“That brought Jay's strategies in park development under safety guidelines and a lot of very useful information that applies to trails as well as skills parks,” says Derksen.
Additionally, each week the BLMBA hosts "Wednesday Workbees," where riders can join in the group ride and get free shuttles on Boer Mountain, but with a hitch: they’re requirement to put in an hour’s trail work in.
“During those sessions, new riders, young riders and others who are interested in building trails are provided much of the information our trail builders have gathered through all of these experiences,” says Derksen. “Good trail ethics are stressed during all club events and group rides to motivate riders who enjoy the trails to keep the trails enjoyable.”
In 2007, The KBRA, also hosted a IMBA/Subaru Trail Care Crew workshop with classroom and field instruction on trail building design and techniques.
“It was a very worthwhile weekend that we recommend to anyone interested in ‘trail building for beginners,’ says Bennett.
Regularly organized trail build and maintenance days are hosted by the KBRA for Harper Mountain. These are often piggy backed on a fun event such as an evening barbeque and riding day – keeping it fun while giving back to the trails.Gaps along the way
While Burns Lake had little opposition moving forward with their land use agreement, KBRA did face some challenges. One significant roadblock the KBRA has encountered is related to land claims by the Kamloops Indian Band. The Harper Mountain trail network is located on land that is of special concern to the local Band.
“It is within their area of interest and under dispute with the government in the land claims and treaty process,” explains Bennett. “Our club is working with the KIB to address their concerns over our activities on the trails, which are mostly to do with cattle and range management, and protection of the grasses for their grazing needs. It’s important that our trail tenure doesn’t interfere or hamper the treaty process for the band. We recommend that anyone looking to develop new trails should check with their local First Nations groups at the earliest stages to understand their interests and concerns.”
Additionally, the KBRA has found the signage of trails in the Harper area difficult to maintain due to locals tearing them down. This “quiet resistance,” as Bennett describes it, is likely from riders or trail builders that in some way resent or don’t understand the goals of the land use agreement.
“We all hate signs in the bush and on the trails,” he says, “but it’s very disheartening that we spend time and money to put these signs up as a condition of our trail tenure and people are tearing them down and vandalizing or stealing them.”The “L” word, again
The BLMBA holds two insurance policies, one for directors’ liability and one for public liability for trail use under the IMBA Canada affiliated insurance policy (see Part 3 for more). Beyond the underwriting policies our directors liability is also kept in check by following Roger's Rules of operations, meeting minutes, financial strategies and other possible liabilities are kept low by following standard protocols to avoid problems. The BLMBA has a risk management plan which includes things like a master signage plan, recognition of adherence to the Whistler Trail Standard and the IMBA Trail Solutions guidelines, good mapping and directional information as well as emergency response procedures and posting local EMS phone numbers and providing EMS with up to date trail maps for quick location of injured riders.
“A lot of common sense comes into play with liability, too much signage reduces the enjoyment of the ride and may even increase risk if the really crucial information on signage is overlooked,” says Derksen.
Trail crew safety checks are conducted in spring, mid-summer and late season, in addition to regular trail "patrol" rides to ensure quality of TTF construction, early identification of degradation of trails, and clearing of fallen trees. These safety checks are reported in a standard reporting form and filed for required due diligence.
“As long as those processes are included in regular riding routines of the club, they don't become a burden to volunteers,” says Derksen. “Pre-race event preparation is a good time for safety checks, early season rides and the like.”
The KBRA is also heading in the direction of insurance coverage for IMBA Canada
clubs for general liability.
“We are organizing ourselves to address the requirements of the tenure agreement to perform things like trail and TTF inspections and maintenance, proper signage and identification of trail hazards, etc…,” says Bennett. “We’re in un-tested waters with these trail agreements, but we’re doing the best we can to establish our due diligence on the management of a dangerous set of trails in a dangerous sport.”
Bennett encourages the BC Government to take another attempt at the Inherent Risk Legislation with the hope that it could better reflect the “common sense” attitude.
“If I’m prepared to take the risks involved with this sport, then I won’t hold others responsible,” says Bennett. “Everyone should be pushing for this legislation with all levels of government to try and make it happen, and the sooner the better.”
It is thought the development of Inherent Risk legislation for BC could significantly reduce insurance costs for the province, bike clubs and private landowners by clearly putting the onus on users, provided land managers practice risk management and demonstrate due diligence. Reducing insurance costs is something Derksen sees as a priority.
“Ongoing insurance costs are a major concern for any non profit group as those annual costs need to be kept as low as possible while still satisfying the liability in the underwriting policy,” he says. “As more agreements are made, more official trails will be in use, and will increase the number of incidences where those liabilities will be challenged.” Resources and enforcement
For MoTCA, a ministry with limited resources, managing risk and holding everyone entering into these agreements accountable is going to be a significant challenge, says Derksen.
“The compliance part of the strategy hasn't been in play yet simply because we're in the early stages of implementation,” he says. “Once more and more trail groups get into agreements like this the challenge for them is to manage risks for themselves or run the risk of being held accountable for breaches in risk management, trail development guidelines and other criteria.”
Derksen sees a future where it’s likely current unauthorized trails that do not meet the guidelines will require rethinking and changes on the trail to meet the standards or risk being dismantled due to reports of injury or public concern for safety. But the question remains, who will enforce this and how?
“The flip side to providing access is to deter bad practices,” says Derksen. “Another challenge will be to provide rewards for good stewardship for successful groups under the strategy as motivation to keep within the agreement and attract other trail groups to enter into the strategy as well.”
But sometimes enforcement isn’t about busting bikers. It also means all land users having a say in what occurs. At Harper Mountain, that meant having forestry operations consult with the KBRA when logging was to occur in the area.
“Having the trail recognized as a resource by the local government agencies means they are already partially protected,” emphasizes Bennett. “We were recently able to work with some local loggers and foresters who were doing some salvage logging on our trail network at Harper. The forester in charge of the logging plans and prescriptions contacted us with his draft plans and maps, and asked how he could accommodate our needs in the area. They were able to flag out one of our trails prior to logging and it was left almost completely intact and undamaged following the harvesting.”Tourism potential
“The yet-to-be-seen benefit is what the strategy will do for marketing BC as the best place on the planet for mountain biking,” says Derksen. “By putting established trail strategies into legal binding agreements for authorized and legitimate trail building, those locations can now promote themselves to the tourist market without repercussions from land use managers and concerns of liability.”
Legalities in adventure tourism are always being challenged, and Derksen says those legal challenges could force policy changes in the BC Trails Strategy in the future.
Bennett sees a double edge sword when it comes to the marketing potential of the recognized trail networks.
“As we increase the mountain biking opportunities and the public profile of the local trails we will see increased traffic from visitors,” says Bennett. “With increased rider traffic comes additional maintenance work that our small group of volunteers may not be able to manage. Government grants and community or industry sponsorship will be required in the long term if the trail networks are to continue to grow and to be maintained to the high standards of the MoTCA strategy. It only makes sense that if the MoTCA strategy is to market the trails for increased economic impacts to the province and communities that we would be allowed access to funding on an annual basis for paying trail crews to do the maintenance and construction efforts.”On the horizon
Derksen is excited about having reached the development stage of the management agreement with the MoTCA. He believes, by having gone through this lengthy blanket area approval process, they have ensured access to a large area of land for years of quality trail development.
On the current proposal for the first project under this new agreement for 2009, the BLMBA is starting a two trail project with Whistler Gravity Logic that would see a black diamond “Dirt Merchant-esque” trail and a 'Crank-it-up-ish' level trail. Linking trails between the Burns Lake Bike Park and the Boer Mountain Rec Area are already in the works as well.
“So as we look forward we see private land double black potential trails linking in with single black crown land trails,” says Derksen. “Offering something for everyone is a tough challenge for a volunteer trail group, but by following established guidelines and taking the time to identify the right area, move into land use agreements on that strategic land use plan, and covering the risks, funds for building trails is possible because you represent something tangible and legal.”
Despite the many challenges, Bennett also remains positive about the mountain biking future for the Kamloops area.
“Everyone should be excited about the future – it’s only getting better and brighter,” he says. “The sport continues to evolve and the trails and the management of them needs to evolve at the same rapid pace. It’s easy to get frustrated and give up when you’re working on agreements that have literally taken years to achieve, and we aren’t even done yet. It’s all about the future of the sport and the trails and making a positive impact on the trail networks for the riders of today, and the young riders of tomorrow.”
Stay tuned for Part 3
.Ryan Kuhn is a downhill mountain bike racer, trail builder and trails advocate. He has helped develop trail management agreements in Golden and Kamloops for such areas as Mount 7 and Harper Mountain. He is sponsored by Devinci Bikes, Nema Clothing, SMX Optics and Revolution Cycles and Service. He resides in Rossland, BC