North Van, Mountain Bike Mecca, Feels Run Over

One city councillor is even calling for a local ban on the sport.

By Caroline Dobuzinskis 9 Mar 2005 |
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Fromme Mountain in North Vancouver is an internationally renowned destination for experienced mountain bikers.District of North Vancouver Councillor Ernie Crist has caused a small uproar in his recent appeals for banning mountain biking on the forested trails in the area.

Crist is no stranger to controversial stances (he recently accused the RCMP of dumping homeless people in the North Vancouver district).But some local residents near Fromme agree the bikers are a disturbance to the community and the sensitive forest environment -- more so than hikers.

"The District has to spend tens of thousands of dollars to undo the damage [by mountain bikers]," Councillor Crist told The Tyee."We had to repair the trails, we had to remove illegal structures.The mountain bikers illegally cut down a great number of trees in the forest illegally to build structures."

Currently, district parks staff are completing a study on the effects of alpine recreation in the area, and possible means of managing trails.The Baden Powell trail, also used by hikers, runs partly through Fromme Mountain on its route across the North Shore.

Move biking to remote zone?

Crist is arguing for a ban on biking on Fromme and the creation of an isolated mountain biking park in the B.C. "hinterlands." Monica Craver, a resident in the Fromme area for the past 15 years, thinks that such a park would also legitimize the sport.

"I really feel that once the sport is contained somewhere like bike parks, it will sort of get rid of the riff raff that are in the place," said Craver."There is a contingency that doesn’t want to give up what they have been doing for the past umpteen years, and they can be pretty nasty about it."

Craver complains that -- particularly over the past five years -- mountain bikers have taken over the neighbourhood by parking their cars along the roads, using neighbours hoses, changing in public, and holding tail gate parties.Within the past year, the district restricted parking on roads around Fromme to local residents.

North Vancouver trail rider Duane Nickull is a professional in the high tech industry and has been a mountain biker for nearly a decade.According to Nickoll, who raced professionally for several years, the sport attracts a wide range of active people, not just irreverent thrill seekers.

"My first high tech start up was founded through a string of mountain bike connections so half the company was into the sport at one point," said Nickull, who is currently serving as vice chair of the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business. "It was a common bond that enabled us to understand each other and work together in the technology market."

Trails pull in riders, money

The North Shore Mountain Biking Association (NSMBA) was started in 1997 after rumours circulated that regulations and housing developments were encroaching on them.As an advocacy group for maintaining trails and keeping them open for mountain bikers, NSMBA organizes trail clean up days from spring to fall.

On February 27, over 120 participants showed up to clear a segment of the Baden Powell trail on Fromme Mountain.Volunteers cleared rocks and debris, put in wooden steps and ensured that water was draining clear of the trail.The NSMBA keeps a regular log of volunteer hours on their website.

"Some people get the impression that this is our job, this is our full-time career," said Dieter Bahr, who participated in the clean-up day."But I have a job.This is just something that I do in my free time and I mountain bike to reward myself after my job."

The popularity of the sport for locals has a ripple effect on the economy -- and also attracts visitors interested in the outdoors.Nickull said his colleagues at Adobe Systems Inc. in California, have been begging for a meeting in Vancouver -- for the chance to ride the famed trails.

The difficult and unique mountain terrain in North Vancouver is a good testing ground for highly specialized bikes and other equipment -- that can sell for several thousand dollars a piece.Several successful, high-end mountain bike design and manufacturing companies are based in Vancouver. There are also over a handful of specialized mountain bike stores within the District of North Vancouver.North Vancouver bike shop owners estimate their combined annual revenues to be around $20 million.

"People know that for a Vancouver company to make something, it has to stand up to the rigours of the [North] Shore or bikers here will not buy it and use it," said Nickull."This brings lots of money back to Vancouver."

Banned in its birthplace

Although a relatively young sport, mountain biking has a two-decade long history in North Vancouver.The fat tires and flexible suspension required for uneven terrain were first used in Marin County, California (across the bay from San Francisco) in the early 1970s.

They were introduced in Vancouver by way of a local resident who brought a few of the bike frames across the border in 1980.Within a few months, the Deep Cove Bike Shop (still located near segments of the Baden Powell trail in North Vancouver) was established and selling the frames.

But in its original birthplace in Marin County, mountain biking is now banned in most forested areas -- except along fire roads.Citing environmental damage, the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Chapter has taken a firm stance against mountain biking on forest paths.Such bans have also been proposed, and some implemented, in other regions in the United States.

The B.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club had no official stance on the issue when contacted by The Tyee.However, the District of North Vancouver has received complaints about trail use from environmental groups.In particular, local environmentalists are concerned about disturbances to bear and endangered species’ habitat, as well as the delicate vegetation surrounding streams.

According to Eva Riccius, ecosystems specialist with the B.C. branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, trails need to be planned with both the environment and the users in mind.

"We are not opposed to mountain biking, certainly not on the North Shore and certainly not in provincial parks,’ said Riccius."But we do think that [mountain bikers] should be on designated trails, mostly to minimize conflicts with other users."

North Van looking at closing trails

Over the course of the past year, the District of North Vancouver ran an inventory of trails and received public input.The latest version of the study includes proposals for increased monitoring by park rangers and volunteers, and two new parking lots for trail users.

"We are looking for sort of more of a balanced approach where you may need to decommission certain trails and minimize trails so you are not impacting an area," said Susan Rogers, district parks planning section manager."But to eliminate one recreational use because you think it has more environmental damage is still really questionable."

According to Rogers, the Alpine Recreational Strategic Study will be discussed with Council again in April before official proposals are made.A February motion by Councillor Crist to place an indefinite moratorium on mountain biking was denied by District of North Vancouver Mayor Janice Harris.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is on staff at The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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