The “skinny” structure of an unsanctioned trail named Catapult that is now gone from Mount Work as it was decommissioned this week by a CRD parks crew. (Erik Beiderwieden Photo)

Cyclists ‘frustrated’ after Capital Regional District removes Mount Work bike trails

Advocates push for new trails at popular Saanich Peninsula regional park

A pair of unsanctioned mountain biking trails at the popular Mount Work Park mountain bike park, next to the Hartland dump, were dismantled by the Capital Regional District last week and it’s part of an underlying conversation starting to heat up across the region.

It comes at a time when there’s been a surge in mountain biking popularity in southern B.C., with Whistler, Squamish, Cumberland and Duncan all benefiting as places to visit. It also comes at a time when the CRD board has voted to create a more rigorous mountain biking policy for the region while the South Island Mountain Bike Society has openly requested the CRD create a Mount Work management plan.

The two entities, CRD Regional Parks and SIMBS have worked together for two decades on authorized trail building activity within the designated mountain biking area in Mount Work Regional Park.

In an open letter asking the CRD to create a Mount Work management plan, SIMBS noted that the boundaries that limit the bike trail system within Mount Work Park have not been expanded since 1999.

It’s a pair of policies that could lead to more trails. However, there is frustration among regular users of the park that even with a new policy, the trails could take years.

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Erik Beiderwieden is an avid mountain biker and Mount Work visitor and had ridden the two trails that were removed last week, Catapult and Rampart. They have names despite being unsanctioned as they became popular, he said.

“My experience is that rogue trail building is a symptom of greater numbers and a lack of development,” Beiderwieden said. “If it’s going to take [up to] five years to put together a report without any action, they will be that much more behind.”

Beiderwieden also noted that while the CRD recognized the need to build a second parking lot for mountain biking (both are currently full even on weekday mornings) but the area hasn’t increased its number of trails, at least legally.

Last year, 39,000 bikes went through the starting gate from the Hartland entrance to the Mount Work park and it’s noticeably busier this spring, said Alon Soraya, the vice president of SIMBS. That doesn’t include the lineup of cars parked along the Willis Point Road accesses where somewhere between five and 15 per cent more cyclists enter without passing the start counter.

The Mount Work site has what some say are Greater Victoria’s best mountain biking trails and was born in the early 1990s from volunteer builders. Eventually, more routes popped up and the Capital Regional District, who manages the park, decommissioned some while sanctioning others. Harbourview is now open on the West Shore but has its own limitations, part of why Sooke Mayor Maja Tait pushed for the regional mountain biking policy in October 2019 (which the CRD board passed).

And while unsanctioned trails have been an issue the CRD and SIMBS have worked together to limit since the start, they seemed to have increased in the last few years. For the last two summers, Soraya said, the CRD has been posting notices on unsanctioned trails – those built without consent from SIMBS or the CRD.

“We don’t condone unsanctioned trail building,” Soraya said. “We know mountain bikers are frustrated.”

Realistically, there can’t be newly sanctioned trails at Mount Work until the boundary is expanded, he added. (The two unsanctioned trails removed the week of May 6 threaded in and out of the boundary, SIMBS said.)

“People are frustrated, they say we’re not building trails quickly enough, and they take matters into their own hands,” Soraya said. “We need people to buy in the process, and be involved, and speak up through the right channels.

“We’re trying to balance that as a society, we don’t want to be policing, we are not out there enforcing bylaws, but we have to have these discussions and be accountable to these frustrations.”

Soraya noted SIMBS is also looking to be more transparent as they’ve heard cyclists are not aware what projects they’ve been taking on.

READ MORE: At work on the trail, monthly work parties on Mount Work mountain bike park

The most recent upgrades to the park are the technical training area for new mountain bikers which the CRD built four years ago (and which the CRD maintains) and the new parking lot. SIMBS also re-routed and rebuilt a south ridge trail to get it out of a creek bed.

Last week, CRD Parks sent a letter to SIMBS declaring the abuse of unauthorized trails, signed by Tracey Moss, manager, visitor services and community engagement.

“CRD has been inventorying the unauthorized trail systems at Mount Work Regional Park outside of the designated mountain bike area,” said the letter. “There is significant mountain bike use outside of designated areas. Some of the trails have been in place or utilized for a number of years and may be considered through management planning but there is clear evidence of new trails and structures being constructed.”

CRD board chair Colin Plant said the CRD continues to build positive relationships with the mountain biking communities in the region but that unauthorized mountain bike trail building remains an issue in regional parks.

“Many [unauthorized trails] are not built to International Mountain Biking Association and CRD standards, do not meet safety requirements and may be impacting ecologically or culturally sensitive areas,” Plant said. “Any mountain biking opportunities need to keep people connected to nature without compromising the natural integrity that draws people to the parks in the first place.”

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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