Kelowna is a hot-bed for mountain bike trails and on the north-facing slope just south of the city resides a trail’s network considered to be one of B.C.’s many hidden gems by pinkbike.com. The Gillard bike trails have weathered fire, windstorm, industry trends and most recently the threat of trail decommissioning.
But now thanks to a partnership agreement between the Mountain Bikers of the Central Okanagan (MTBco), Recreation Sites and Trails BC, local riders will take over planning for the area’s trails, saving them from possible decomissioning and building development plans.
“Now that we have secured a signed partnership agreement with the province, our first step is the development an approved work plan,” wrote Jay Darby, president of MTBco. “Under the agreement, public and environmental safety will take first priority. Initial works will include the installation of signage, the removal of unsafe stunts and a reduction in the number of points where trails intersect the road.”
Darby said that in plans for years one and two include the development of formal parking areas and installation of other trail-head infrastructure and facilities. Long term goals are numerous but key aspects of the proposed build-out are the development of climbing trails, the creation of a BC Cup level race course and construction of intermediate and beginner flow trails to meet the needs of the regional cycling community, according to MTBco.
“We’re enthusiastic to be working with the province and we look forward to involving the entire local mountain bike community in creating what we hope will become the premier regional trail network for gravity oriented mountain biking,” said Darby.
The forested area in which the current trail network is located has been utilized for mountain biking since nearly the dawn of the sport. As early as the ‘80’s local kids would ride down the many skid roads in the area left behind by logging. In the ‘90’s and numerous trails were opened among the rock cliffs and mature pine forest. The advent of stunted “Freeride” mountain biking had a huge impact on the most prolific generation of Gillard builders and subsequently, in the early 2000’s the area became home to possibly the largest collection of trail structures outside of the North Shore. This led to Gillard making appearances in numerous mountain bike videos of the era and sparked the careers of a handful of locals who turned professional. The network’s reputation made it a “must ride” destination for anyone visiting the interior of B.C. for mountain biking.
This meteoric rise came to a fiery end in 2003 when the Okanagan Mountain Park fire that blazed across the south slopes of the City of Kelowna, burned the majority of the network and its extensive collection of stunts to the ground. Prior to the fire a new generation of riders had migrated to the area from throughout Canada. With a number the original trail builders having moved on from mountain biking it fell on the shoulders of this new generation to rebuild the trails. For many, these trails were the reason they had moved to Kelowna in the first place. Rebuild they did, in a short period of time the network rose from the ashes. Stunts were rebuilt, trails were re-opened and new ones were developed.
Nature wasn’t done with Gillard, the 2003 fire was just the first hurdle the network would have to overcome. In 2007, only five short years after the fire, a large windstorm decimated the area. The large number of standing dead trees left from the fire fell like dominoes, taking with them the rebuilt stunts and littering the re-opened trails. Once again, a local community of builders banded together and got to work.
Gillard morphed into a better built and more diverse trail network. With the network once again rebuilt, some forward-thinking members of the community came forward with the idea of securing legal status for the trials. They envisioned a sanctioned trail network with proper facilities, appropriate funding and a promising future. A mountain bike club was formed and the foundation for the future was laid.
Two and a half years ago, in the spring of 2014, the trails were once again threatened – this time not by nature but with possible decommissioning. Trespass notices were placed upon some of the more recently constructed features. MTBco stepped forward, a call to action was made for the community to once again band together. The club had spent the past couple of years ensuring it was financially solvent, developing strong relationships with local government, and increasing its presence within the local riding community. These important steps ensured that with a groundswell of community support from the potential decommissioning of the network the likelihood of legalization this time around would almost be certain to succeed. A new application for formalized status of the network was submitted and the process of legalization began again.
The MTBco board of directors would like to thank all of our community supporters and acknowledge our past directors and the local trail builders who laid the foundation for this momentous undertaking.
Find them online at MTBco.ca.