In what they hope will become an international tourism attraction for the future, the Grand Forks All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV) Club has linked up with the West Kootenay ATV Club to develop a world-class multi-user trail system spanning from Creston in the Rockies to the Okanagan.
Dubbed the South Kootenay Trail System, the trails would be open 365 days a year to mountain bikers, hikers, horses, ATVs, off road motorcycles and snowmobiles. They estimate that once the trails are linked there could be as much as 1000 kilometres of accessible trails for users.
“Our proposal is that the rail bed should be for all users,” said Don Frew, from Montrose and ATV BC representative for the West Kootenay ATV Club. “The province basically owns the rail bed and we want it for everybody – everybody’s a taxpayer. Everybody should have a chance to go out and see the history of the rail line. I think the TCT is being a bit selfish – we want it for all users. ”
Key to using the Trans-Canada Trail is that it links other backcountry trails that would offer the chance for users to embark on different routes, Frew added. The club’s project could take as long as six to 10 years to complete.
Frew agrees that bylaws would need to be set up by the regional districts to ensure appropriate, responsible use on the trails.
“You always get the four percent or so of people that ruin it for everybody,” Frew admitted. “It’s going to be hard to stop something like that. It’s a shame that we can’t all get along. We’re trying to promote tourism and bring money into our province.”
Frew’s vision of using existing Trans-Canada Trails and old rail beds as key parts of the multi-user system has local trails groups questioning the logic of the idea.
“There has been no successful utilization of trails by both ATVs, dirt bikes particularly, and self-powered travellers. It’s all about the respect that the users have for one another,” said George Longden, local representative for the Trans Canada Trails Society and chair of the Grand Forks Trails Society.
“I’m not saying that all motorized users are irresponsible, I’ve attended meetings of the Grand Forks ATV Club, but you can’t control everybody – there’s always a rogue group that will go well in excess of the speed limit or go mud-bogging.”
Examples of successful multi-user riding networks can be found in Quebec, Frew explained. He cited a recent study of the Quebec system identifying that hiking / biking trails versus motorized trails networks generate significantly different revenues. For hiking/biking trails revenue was $8,741 per kilometre as compared to $15,997 per kilometre – a difference of $7,256.
Longden agrees that many of the club members are responsible users, but that it is very hard, once multi-users are allowed, to manage the trails for safety.
“In Quebec they ended up having to duplicate the trails in order to accommodate all users,” said Longden. “One of the big difficulties that anyone who has a confrontation deals with is identifying the rider on a motorcycle or quad particularly if they’re wearing a bubble-face shield and a helmet. How can you tell who it is?
"How do you advertise this as a world-class cycling trail to draw people… if visitors riding the trail meet some yahoo on a dirt bike or a quad doing 50 kilometres on the trail? What kind of message does that give them?”
Not only do the trails potentially draw revenue to an area, it allows people who would otherwise be unable to access the back country and creates health benefits for these people, said Frew.
But Longden maintains that the ATV groups have many other options for their activities – forestry roads and other trails - while leaving the Trans-Canada trail as non-motorized. Irresponsible riders, said Longden, damage trails, the ecosystem and the reputation of the trail.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me, it’s the wrong thing to do,” Longden ended.
Frew recently presented the groups’ idea to the B.C. Rural Caucus to garner their support when they made a stop in Grand Forks.
What’s your thoughts? Can many users share the trails in our region? Let us know what you think by commenting below.