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Some Thoughts on Trails from the 2019 Greenway Trails Strategy Meeting

FMCBC Executive Director Barry Janyk was invited to attend the Trails BC Greenway Trails Strategy meeting, which took place in Penticton on May 5th, 2019.  Janyk’s presentation, given to the  30-ish attendees that were at the Okanagan Similkameen RD offices for the meeting, is below!

So I went into my FMCBC electronic file folder that was unwittingly bestowed upon me when I started with the Fed in March 2017 and found a litany of topics that might be worth some mention—trail markers, trail building, trail maintenance, trail protocols, trail conflicts, trail strategies, trail bridges, trail maps, Adopt-A-Trail—the host of options was endless. I also went into the big box that was given to me as well and dug up some gems— real stories of the past! In fact, there were so many options I was left kind of stunned as to what to discuss.

Therefore I did what I usually try to do when I’m confused: I got grounded. I went to the well—the well of most knowledge these days—Wikipedia. And what is there made me smack my head, because if you think the Fed’s got files there are many, many interesting pages of background—thousands of them actually—on trails on the Internet. I discovered it’s a trail you may wish to avoid going down…

A few interesting facts for you to chew on: I found out that a trail is usually a path, track or unpaved lane or road. In the UK and Ireland a path or footpath is the preferred term for a walking trail. The term is also applied, in North America, to routes along rivers, and sometimes to highways. In the US, the term was historically used for a route into or through wild territory used by emigrants (e.g. the Oregon Trail). In the USA “trace” is a synonym for trail, as in Natchez Trace. Some trails are single use and can only be used for walking, cycling, horse riding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing; others, as in the case of a bridleway in the UK, are multi-use, and are shared by walkers, cyclists and equestrians. There are also unpaved trails used by dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles and in some places, like the Alps, trails are used for moving cattle and other livestock.

OK. So, we knew all that. Well it stands to reason that, based on the description of what they are, paths, or trails, or traces are likely as old as human kind. When we climbed out of the trees and decided to go see what was going on over the next hill and were soon followed by our aunties and uncles, brothers, sisters and others nearby who were curious. Right? They followed and what happened was the trail was marked so our ancestors might return to that place from where they started, just in case the grass on the other side wasn’t as green as they had hoped.

(Credit: Margaret Lindsay)

 

Maybe it’s time we just briefly touch on the evolution of trails and why…

Paths or trails were an aspect of indigenous life on all the populated continents. Paths often became tracks, eventually practical routes were actually mapped and surveyed and the tracks became rough roads, slowly improving as technology advanced from horse and ox drawn wagons to today’s modern highway infrastructure—which on some days in the lower mainland causes one to travel about as fast as our forefathers and mothers did in their horses and buggies.

As paths and trails grew into roads, others trails were created and others evolved into the spectacular array of optional backcountry byways we all take advantage of. In a word trails have become complicated. We have transnational trails, regional trail networks, coastal routes, even—with the train’s decline—rails to trails!

It’s not just the demands, the scope of uses and their multifaceted purposes, their classifications, their routing and placement, the myriad of rules and regulations, the requisite permissions, the negotiations, the funds and bodies needed before you can even initiate construction—it’s everything combined that has made trails a much more comprehensive undertaking in the 21st Century. It used to be so easy to build a trail on Crown lands. And, in the good old days, many miles of trails were.

Today we have a plethora of labels to describe the systems we all propose, which are basically, a couple of options: shared or multi-use and restricted or segregated trails. Under each of those it gets interesting because it starts getting more technical as trails are now expected to be built to standards depending on a multitude of factors such as use and users, anticipated numbers, terrain, etc. It’s become a trade unto itself in backcountry education and the knowledge and skills required to construct true quality trails systems are real and rare gifts. Again, nothing you don’t know.

What we often find ourselves involved in is when user groups decide they want to poach access to trails others have built for specific users and the standard generally reflects that. Generally, the original users are not terribly interested in sharing the trail and the next thing you have is a social media bun fight, and worse…

When certain user groups are restricted from using trails individuals or organisations legitimately (or perhaps surreptitiously) created, it gets messy. Even common user groups—bikers in particular—have communications issues, as what occurred in Squamish recently when trails were built crosssecting each other. Now add some really significant slope—aka speed—and it became the potential for serious mishap at the intersections. Apparently, they’re rebuilding…

(Spruce Lake, South Chilcotin. Credit: Bryce Leigh)

So segregated multi-use trails pretty much covers everything non-motorized to motorized: hikers, trail runners, horses, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, ATV’s, motorcycles, snowmobiles, bikes—and the latest entry on the trail networks—electric bikes.

I want to mention e-bikes here as the province, as you are all likely aware, has just released a policy document on the use of e-bikes on Crown lands. It’s here…

I can’t emphasize enough the implications the advent of the electric motor will have on the backcountry. This changes everything folks.
Access to trailheads, then to existing trails and then on to the fragile alpine will be unhindered unless there is provincial oversight and continued assessments made of the inevitable impacts as use increases. Given the obvious lack of any ministry oversight on Crown lands, the responsibility is going to have to be assumed by users and probably policed by those groups who built the trails. E-bikes are game changers for trails and trail builders. They provide access never before realized.

Just so we understand one model, the “Neematic” is a pedal assist bike. It weighs just 52 kilos, produces 15W of power, has a top speed of 80 km/h and a range of 100 kms. Packaged together with a solar photocell charger and the range is well, virtually unlimited…

In the next 5 years, if not before, e-bikes, electric ATVs and electric snowmobiles will be common. These changes in technology will create unforeseen consequences for builders and users of trails and the agencies and organisations that are responsible for their maintenance and who hold legal obligations such as liability.

I bring it up because it is the next phase in the evolution of trails and back country access. It’s relatively straight forward for the Federation of Mountain Clubs—our 44 clubs and 5,500 individual members—because we only represent non-motorized access. However, as we can all see this new technology will affect everyone here and we had better understand what the issues will be and how we will collaborate to address them as they arise. Because there will be issues…

To close off here: The point of all this is just to recap how and why the whole business of trail building has become so multifaceted. With the necessity for the technical nature required for trails, finding the resources required, ascertaining and agreeing on their designated uses, the time-consuming process of obtaining rights to the land, and of course the certainty of often protracted First Nations consultations makes the permission process “challenging”. I kind of long for the good old days when, if you wanted a trail built, you pretty much just did it, if it was rural. But given the numbers of Spandex and Gore-Tex outfitted enthusiasts, real newcomers to the BC wilderness and the advance of technologies it’s fairly clear why trail establishment has to be so bogged down in process.

Oh, and then there’s actually undertaking the tasks of building and then maintaining the systems we create.

So, to all you good folks involved in the planning, designing and implementing phases of back country trails, my congratulations and thanks to you all. In today’s world, building trail is the easy part, and it’s certainly the most rewarding—when that first party goes over to the far end. And like our ancestors, only if it’s to see what’s on the other side of that hill!

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