North Cowichan council has referred a request to allow mountain biking on Mount Richards to the municipality’s economic development committee for further review.
A member of the Cowichan Trails Stewardship Society asked council at its meeting on Feb. 1 to include mountain biking on Mount Richards as North Cowichan prepares to move forward with plans to develop the mountain in accordance with its Parks and Trails Master Plan.
The master plan is currently calling for recreational uses on the mountain to be restricted to hikers and equestrian users only, and requests to open the area up to mountain bikers as well has proven to be a controversial issue in the community.
Coun. Chris Istace made the motion at the council meeting on March 1 to refer the proposal to add mountain biking on the mountain to the EDC to consider the economic, social, and environmental impacts that cycling may pose to Mount Richards and other user groups and make a recommendation to council.
Istace said he is a passionate cyclist and hiker and the mountains in the Cowichan Valley should be inclusive for all users.
He said the track record of North Cowichan’s partnership with the CTSS has shown that adding mountain biking to the outdoor recreation plans for the mountain can be successfully managed.
“The actual root of me wanting to support this is the incredible untapped economic potential this could have for Crofton,” Istace said.
Coun. Debra Toporowski said that due to the growing concerns over the ecological impacts, visitor conflicts and trespassing onto adjacent lands by allowing biking on the mountain, she can’t support the motion at this time.
She said she wants to hear from local First Nations on how they feel about the issue.
“There are sacred areas that we don’t point out there and its something that’s culturally sensitive,” Toporowski said.
Coun. Bruce Findlay, who lives in Crofton, said council has received many phone calls and emails on the proposal and pointed out that allowing mountain biking on the mountain isn’t what was accepted in the Parks and Trails Master Plan.
He said if the community is adamant that plans don’t get reopened, like his unsuccessful bid to reopen the official community plan, then perhaps council shouldn’t reopen the parks master plan at this time either.
Findlay said he conducted his own online poll on the issue and of the 373 responses he received, 219 were against it.
“I think there needs to be a significant engagement process to ascertain what Crofton feels about this,” he said.
Coun. Mike Caljouw said he frequently hikes on Mount Richards and he has never had any problems with mountain bikers.
“I don’t see a huge controversy in trying to develop more trails there,” he said.
“As far as [Coun. Findlay’s] poll goes, Bruce once said to me that only people who are against something take the time to fill out polls.”
Coun. Christopher Justice reminded council that it is not making any final decisions on the issue at this time and is just deciding whether it should be referred to the EDC for further review.
“This may require a more concerted engagement with the public before any final decisions are made,” he said.
Istace’s motion passed, with Findlay and Toporowski opposed.