Mountain Bikers of the Central Okanagan will spend this Saturday cleaning the Gillard downhill mountain bike trails and the surrounding forest

Battle heats up over trail use in B.C. Interior

The Central Okanagan is at the epicentre of a trail user group conflict with innovative solutions on the horizon.

  • Fri Oct 3rd, 2014 12:00pm
  • News

A new war in the British Columbia woods has several groups pumping up solutions as fast as their tires with Kelowna at ground zero.

The Mountain Bikers of the Central Okanagan (MTBco) has just earned formal endorsement from the City of Kelowna for its bid to legalize the Gillard downhill mountain bike trails, designating them for non-motorized use.

The legalization process is provincial, meaning the city’s thumbs up has little bearing on the final outcome, however, MTBco president Jay Darbyshire believes the more user groups and local politicians laud the idea, the more their application to assume control of the area is likely to succeed.

“We’re just trying to sanction or legalize specific trails that are already designated and used by mountain bikers,” said Darbyshire, noting there has been conflict with other trail users on the Crown land.

The steep, knotted terrain of the area is punctuated with stunts and drops the bikers have built and doesn’t make for great running or hiking. But, motorized dirt bikers have been riding up the trails.

“They’re riding up, where we’re riding down and we’re both going the same speed,” said Darbyshire.

He characterizes the resulting conflict as mild, when compared to other user group throw-downs, but the potential for injury is high.

The mountain bikers are, thus, out rallying for support in their bid, noting if MTBCo assumes legal control of the trails, it will also protect the region from industrial and residential development.

On Saturday, the lobbying effort culminates in a forest cleanup as the area is littered with everything from couches to televisions—and a shooting range worth of bullet casings.

Darbyshire says responsible motorized trail users tend to use their provincially-established zone in Bear Creek, but those who want to play outside the rules, often head to Gillard and cause a disturbing mess. He isn’t pinning the wild gun play on the dirt bikers, but says it stems from a redneck strain in the Okanagan at odds with all of the trail user groups.

“It really is a danger up there because a lot of these people are just shooting off the road into the trail,” he said.

Should the mountain bikers win their bid, under the Forest and Range Practices Act they will be legally responsible for trail creation and trail maintenance in the area and they want the neighbourhood to know they mean business.

In the past two weeks a new umbrella organization has formed, Central Okanagan Trails Alliance, pulling together everyone from the cross-country ski enthusiasts to the horseback riders, the naturalists to the ATV riders and cyclists.

Darbyshire has assumed the president’s role and says the goal is to formalize trail use for each user group and use the umbrella organization to lobby for trail-building and maintenance funds.

Negotiating recreational jurisdiction is a hot topic in this province where outdoor adventure drives tourism and residents move to areas specifically for access to the outdoors.

Simultaneously, a provincewide user group fight over the Kettle Valley Railway above Gillard is hitting its boiling point.

In 2007, then-premier Gordon Campbell announced the provincial rail beds would become part of a new Spirit Trail network, a cycling trail system to run throughout the province.

It was believed this meant the trails would become non-motorized, but the province did not make any legal move to enshrine such rights.

Cyclists and motorized trail users have been at odds over the KVR between Chute Lake and Naramata ever since, with provincial cycling advocates suggesting the province has reneged on a promise.

The provincial government has stated it will concentrate enforcement on areas where motorized use has been banned, going no further.

“The province recognizes that existing motorized use occurs on many portions of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, and is managing the trail to ensure the safety of all users where mixed-use occurs,” a statement from the B.C. Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said in response to questions about the conflict.

Specifically, this means dirt bikes and ATVs are banned from the KVR in Myra Canyon Provincial Park, where the provincial park status prevents motorized use, and on an area between Little Tunnel and the City of Penticton boundary in Naramata.