Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mountain and Stunt Biking in North Vancouver

This post is a response to a piece on the "North Van politics" blog where Ernie Crist, a former councillor in North Vancouver District, makes accusations that mountain biking on Mt. Fromme is environmentally damaging and unsustainable, and that North Van taxpayers are footing the bill for trail maintenance to "restore damaged trails."

As a mountain biker, a North Van resident, and general outdoor enthusiast I find these accusations quite off target. First of all, yes there is mountain biking on Mt Fromme. I started riding there over 20 years ago. Since then there has been a boom in the sport. More and more people are riding. Over the years I have seen the trails go from mud tracks down the side of the mountain (that were absolutely an ecological disaster) to trails that are much more sensitive to both the needs of mountain bikers and to the environment. When a trail crosses a stream, in most cases, a bridge made of dead fall is used to keep riders from riding through the stream and causing erosion. Over sensitive muddy areas ladders are built, again to minimise the impact of the tires. Through the organised efforts of the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (NSMBA) mountain biking has become legitimized because of some of these more sustainable methods of trail building. Mountain bikers not only maintain and improve their own trails, they also maintain hiking trails, something hikers as a group rarely do.

I ride up Fromme almost weekly. In my travels I do see environmental degradation. This degradation is rarely a result of anything mountain bikers do though. At the bottom of Crinkum Crankum as a result of run off there is a terrible wash out. This wash out is not a result of any mountain bike trail, although one does cross here, it is a result of improper road construction. Yes mountain bikers use the road to access trails on Fromme, but the road is there so that vehicles can access Grouse Mountain, private cabins and the Van Tan Club.

Mr. Crist also makes the assertion that
"There is also an aesthetic factor in the equation. Artificial structures on forested mountain slopes can detract from the atmosphere of an unspoiled wilderness, inhabited by wild life"
I find this statement hard to believe. Anyone driving or hiking up Mountain Highway to Grouse Mountain would be hard pressed to see any structures, or for that matter, any trails. It takes a keen eye, in many cases, to even find the trail head of many of the mountain bike trails on Fromme. To say that the structures, many of which are put in for environmental reasons, are aesthetically unpleasing is ludicrous. I don't like the look of Lynn Valley Mall. It is an eye sore and I have to see it every day. Most of the structures made for mountain biking are almost invisible until you are right on top of them. All of the structures are made from dead fall and are natural to the environment. Each of the trails that the NSMBA maintains is done so with a permit from the District of North Vancouver. So to say that the trail building and maintenance is illegal is also false.

Many of the mountain bike trails are actually old skidder tracks used by loggers when the trees from Fromme were used to build the houses that many of us are living in. To say that mountain bikers are ruining Fromme seems laughable. Fromme has tracks and trails all over it, from industry no less! So to say that Fromme is pristine wilderness is really not true, it has been used by business and developers for many years. I suspect the developers will get more of Fromme in the future and pave over and build houses on many of the trails that I ride today. I also suspect little will be said about that type of environmental raping.

Are NVD taxpayers paying for trail maintenance and restoration? I doubt that. Most of the work on trails done by the NSMBA is done by volunteers with donated materials. There have been grants received by the NSMBA to maintain and improve trails, such as the Baden Powell hiking trail, but I suspect if indeed some of this money did come in part from the DNV, it is relatively small and well worth it for all trail users and residents.

I won't say that there are no illegal or poorly built trails on Mt Fromme, there are. There are a "bad apples" in the mountain bike world, those that don't go by the rules, those that build illegal trails, scare hikers by riding past without regard for other trail users, but I also believe that they are in the minority. There are many people in our society that don't play by the rules. I see them every day when I walk my son to school. The people that don't stop for pedestrians, those that speed without regard for other road users.

So let's move on. Mt. Fromme has always been a "working" mountain. It has been logged, developed and now it is being mountain biked on. I see both logging and development far more detrimental to the environment than mountain biking. Let's help the NSMBA improve and maintain the trails for all users.

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