Speak Up! South Chilcotins Mountain Biking At Risk

The South Chilcotins of British Columbia that has provided many years of back-country alpine riding adventure is at risk of being shut off to mountain bikers. Formerly known as the Spruce Lake Protected Area, the South Chilcotins was given provincial park status by the provincial government in 2010. The outdoor lover in me applauds the goal of protecting this beautiful area but the mountain biking side is dismayed that the draft plan to manage the park is pointedly focusing attention on restricting mountain biking activity. If you’ve experienced Chilcotin singletrack or pine for the day you can flow the trails like Shandro did in The Collective then read on and have your say.

Lee Lau, a long-time South Chilcotin backcountry riding adventurer, has done an excellent review and commentary on the draft management plan which is posted on NSMB. Here are the key items in the plan that affect mountain biking:

1. Restricting when you can mountain bike

BC Parks wants to make mountain biking “predictable” e.g. no riding before 8:00am to after 4:00pm, 3 days a week, avoid biking in May. The riding in the Chilcotins isn’t your “let’s go after work” variety – the riding season is short (July up to mid October if the snow doesn’t get there first) and the trails can be all day rides depending on your route, your fitness and the most unpredictable aspects: the weather and unexpected mechanicals. Pretty hard to ride within predictable boundaries with big trails and big mountains. How would this be policed?

2. Float plane access

Being shuttled to the trail head via a float plane is a unique experience for not just mountain bikers; hikers, fishermen, trail runners, etc use Tyax Adventures to access the South Chilcotin back country. The draft plan intends to limit fly-in access by reducing the number of trips and timing of flights. Recreational users will not be the only ones impacted – this will put a large dent in Tyax’s business in an area where tourism is a key economic activity.

3. Protecting grizzlies and their habitat

Seeing a grizzly bear is like seeing one of the big five game animals on an African safari. It’s an awe-inspiring site that is part of the BC wilderness. I have only seen them three times in my life, including once in the South Chilcotins (in the ten years that I’ve been riding in the area). Seeing grizzlies and other wildlife is a big part of the appeal for any outdoor enthusiast, including most mountain bikers; they are not against protecting them. So why are mountain bikers singled out in the draft plan as likely having the most conflict with bears? Are bears never encountered by hikers? Horse back riders? Being bear-aware, i.e. making noise, staying in groups, is important for any trail user. Education is key.

4. Trail maintenance

The South Chilcotins is heavily affected by pine beetle kill. Every year, the local outfitters (Tyax and Chilcotin Holidays) and a small handful of volunteers take it upon themselves to clear the blowdown so that horses, hikers, mountain bikers and others can enjoy the trails. If it wasn’t for these dedicated folks (a lot of them being mountain bikers), the trails would not be open. BC Parks has severely limited resources including less than a dozen park rangers for the entire province. How will they maintain the trails as per their plan recommendations? And as Lee Lau points out, if Tyax Air goes out of business because of the park plan, then a huge chunk of annual trail maintenance will not happen anymore.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve ridden the Chilcotins once or dozens of times; if you dream of the day you and your friends get in to that float plane; or if you live in BC or outside of Canada. Here is an opportunity to be a voice with your fellow mountain bikers and give your feedback to BC Parks. You have until May 30, 2014 to fill out the online comment form.

Be courteous. Be direct. Be passionate. The South Chilcotins are worth it.

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