Hikers, bikers discuss possibility of shared-use trails

Josh Pennell
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Mountain bikers from within or outside this province don’t need the consent of the East Coast Trail Association (ECTA) to use the hundreds of kilometres of coastline trails the group maintains.

Chris Jerrett of Freeride Mountain Sports says shared trails already exist here and aren’t as difficult to make work as some people think.

ECTA president Randy Murphy found that out recently when a company offered a tour along what has generally been considered a hiking trail.

On Monday, The Telegram broke a story about mountain bike tours being given along portions of the East Coast Trail (ECT) without the ECTA’s consent by Sacred Rides, a company out of Ontario.

Last December, Murphy says, the ECTA was asked by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation how it felt about opening the trail up to mountain bikers in the upcoming summer.

Murphy says the ECTA told the government that the trail was built with hikers in mind and shared use with bikers couldn’t be accommodated.

“They said to us at the time that they would meet with the tour company and make sure it’s not scheduled and that they would not be proceeding without an agreement with the ECTA. We thought it was all settled,” says Murphy.

In February, the ECTA met with Ken Sooley, who owns CapeRace Cultural Adventures and is the franchise owner of Sacred Rides. He’s managing the bikers on tour on the ECT this summer.

When Sooley brought forward his proposal to start bike tours on the ECT for the summer, Murphy declined, but said he would bring his requests to the ECTA board on March 18 for future consideration.

Before that meeting happened, Murphy says, he saw ads on the Sacred Rides website for tours along the ECT during the summer. What he didn’t know at the time was the Department of Tourism had brought Mike Brcic — the owner of Sacred Rides in Ontario — down to discuss mountain bike tours on the ECT.

On June 30 the Department of Tourism informed Murphy that the licence of the ECTA gave the group the right to build a pedestrian trail, but not the right to refuse mountain bike access.

Furthermore, there is no legislation or policy that would allow the government to refuse the bikers use of the trail.

But it does spark the question of whether the ECTA should want to refuse bikers from using the trail, and whether hikers should strike down the possibility of a shared-use trail.

Shared-use trails between mountain bikers and hikers are not only possible, but work remarkably well and are already in existence in this province, says Chris Jerrett, an avid mountain biker and owner of Freeride Mountain Sports.

“We’re cordial trail users. We’re respectful of the environment and the trail, just like any other user,” says Jerrett.

He has a long list of places he’s visited in Canada and the U.S. that prove it’s possible for hikers and bikers to coexist, but he says there’s no need to go that far at all.

“Pippy Park. You want to see shared-use trails, they’re only five kilometres away here,” he says.

Shared-use trails also exist in the jewel of Newfoundland’s west coast.

“Parks Canada three years ago opened up several sections of the Gros Morne trails, which are pristine, beautiful trails, to mountain biking,” Jerrett says. “So when an organization — you could call Parks Canada a conservative organization — sees the need to open up 30 or 40 kilometres of trails to shared use, that’s kind of an eye opener.”

There doesn’t need to be any “us versus them” when it comes to the trail use, he adds.

As far as safety goes, the ECT is very technical for a biker, he says. Non-bikers probably can’t even understand how people could bike them, because they don’t get what type of mountain it is. There’s lots of climbing. As an advanced biker, he says he doesn’t go any faster than 7 or 8 km/h in the quicker parts. so it’s not a situation of barreling toward hikers.

There’s also the right of bikers to use the trails, he says.

“Some of these trails that we use that are currently under the management of the ECTA ... some of the sections are hundreds of years old. We should not be denied any access to that,” says Jerrett.


“We’re not opposed to change,” says Murphy, adding that there’s a lot to consider in the transition even if an agreement to make one was made.

Liability is a big consideration for the ECTA. When the trail was started in the 1990s, the understanding between landowners, towns and other Crown groups was that it was a pedestrian path, says Murphy. Their insurance is based on that understanding.  

Jerrett sees the potential, though.

“We can sell our coastline through mountain biking effectively and have a unique product,” he says.

And he also agrees with a transition, with trail modification and maintenance that would make it appropriate for dual use. Bikers are interested in about 50 or 60 kilometres of the coastline trail.

“We’ve lost probably upwards of 50 per cent of our trail access due to development and the ECTA,” he says.

The Department of Tourism has asked the ECTA to meet with officials and the tour company to come to a resolution.

“This is great,” says Jerrett. “This is a big step forward. Hopefully, we can start working together and make things happen in a positive way for everybody. That’s really what we want to do.”

Murphy, meanwhile, is left with concerns about a too-quick a transition of the trail to shared use.

“We created it. We are the custodians of it. We have all the responsibility, but no authority.”


Organizations: Department of Tourism, CapeRace Cultural Adventures, ECTA board Parks Canada Freeride Mountain Sports

Geographic location: Ontario, Canada, U.S. Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Voter
    July 15, 2014 - 19:36

    Will the bike tour company be contributing to the trail upkeep? Is the trail a single trail at any points along the way? Will the bikes tear up the soft sections of the trail? As Nflders, we can be polite but we don't have to sit back and let CFAs take advantage of us!

    • Multi User
      July 16, 2014 - 12:08

      Yes the tour company has offered to invest in the trails, the local MTB community has offered to help with trail maintenance. Bikes have the same impact as feet, according to the research anyway. They are also only asking for about 12 km of trail that's been used as multi use (unofficially) for over 20 years. I don't think the impact is going to be as great as a lot of people think. Lots of mis-information around.

    • Multi User
      July 16, 2014 - 12:34

      Yes the tour company has offered to invest in the trails, the local MTB community has offered to help with trail maintenance. Bikes have the same impact as feet, according to the research anyway. They are also only asking for about 12 km of trail that's been used as multi use (unofficially) for over 20 years. I don't think the impact is going to be as great as a lot of people think. Lots of mis-information around.

  • m.....hiker
    July 15, 2014 - 14:34

    The last line says it all as far as the ECT goes. Strange that the article doesn't mention who it was from the Dept. of Tourism who brought down the owner of the biking tour company to discuss bike tours on the ECT!!! Randy Murphy is looking at the legal issues here and there are many of them. One issue may be that landowners who have consented to hikers crossing their lands may not agree for bikers crossing their land. There are bikers on our trails now......I've encountered them, I've seen pics of them, I've seen their tire marks and the ruts created. I have also spent hours on trail maintenance all for the opportunity to hike there in peace and quiet. I don't want to lose this special place. It is a world class trail bringing people from all over the world to hike here and bringing in mega bucks for tourism. Now, we have a private company from ON trying to come into our province to make money off what we have spent 20 years this year trying to build and maintain....... Do whatever it takes to preserve our hiking trail.

  • Robert Lewis
    July 15, 2014 - 12:40

    I've hiked, run, snowshoed, etc. the trails in the White Hills and Pippy Park that are shared with mountain bikers and I have never had an issue with the bikers. Yes there are yahoos on mountain bikes but there are ***hole hikers too. People work things out.

  • W Bagg
    July 15, 2014 - 12:34

    but can a mountain bike pass me on the East Coast Trail without wiping me out. I hope they plan to dismount before passing me. I'm not getting out of their way, they should get out of mine or build your own trail

    • Mark
      July 15, 2014 - 14:38

      I am both an avid hiker and mountain biker. I always shout out to let hikers know I am coming up on them while biking to give them time to step aside. While hiking I have no problem taking a 10 second break to allow a biker to pass. I really don't think you built the trail so I wouldn't say you can call it your own. There is no reason why we cannot allow this trail to be used for both purposes. We are all out for the same reason to stay fit and take in the sites of our beautiful rugged coastline. Cheers

    • M V
      July 15, 2014 - 16:59

      Sorry brother, but in the 90's - early 2000''s it was MOUNTAIN BIKERS(myself included) who built and maintained most of the trails that the ECTA have taken over! That being said there's no need to be an arse as there is room for both of us up there!

    • D. McDonald
      July 15, 2014 - 20:56

      In a word, yes! There are guidelines for shared use that are not only logical but functional. I have shared trails as a hiker, biker and snowshoer and have never had a conflict with other users. Bikers have been a part of building and maintaining trails, in many areas of our province, for shared use over many years. Your attitude is ill-informed, elitist and unnecessarily antagonistic.

  • JMAP
    July 15, 2014 - 10:21

    The ECTA is becoming a little dictatorial....during the Tely Hike they didn't want hikers with their dogs on leashes on the trails. However people went ahead and took their dogs....I'm not so sure they'll support the Tely Hike next year. These trails are for everyone to use. Because volunteers "choose" to spend time working on the trails, does not give them exclusive rights. You'd be surprised how easily these bikers can manoeuvre in tight or narrow spaces. Local bikers spend a fair amount of time developing, cutting and building trails in the White Hills, which are often damaged by people with no respect for anything....so they are well aware of preventing damage to any part of the trail system. Why can't everyone work together and share the trail....it belongs to E V E R Y O N E.

    • Aroundthebay
      July 15, 2014 - 14:48

      Yes, the trail might belong to everyone, but the ECT is maintained by dedicated volunteers. They don't get paid, and get very little money from the government and local businesses. Yes, everyone work together. The ECT is a national treasure - it's been cited in Huff Post as one of the top trails in the country - but get out and help. Will the bikers get out and put in the hours of maintenance; will you?

    • Brains
      July 16, 2014 - 07:02

      @Aroundthebay, currently the ECTA officially doesn't recognize mountain bikers as trail users. As a mountain biker, I will not volunteer my hours on trail upkeep when it is not going to be designed for bikes. Once bicycles are recognized and encouraged users of the trails; absolutely, I am willing to split my time between ECTA and other dedicated mountain bike trails (which we encourage people to hike, by the way). The problem here is the attitude of the ECTA. As outdoor sports enthusiasts we can all work together to create sustainable trails for everyone, significantly ramping up the level of exposure people have to our beautiful coastline.

    • andrea
      July 16, 2014 - 07:57

      JMAP, I tried to hiked in the last several Tely Hike however I was unsuccessful - I have a major fear of Dogs, I was glad to see that the ECTA asked that people not take their dogs during that one day. I gave me hope that I could enjoy that day with my friends raising money for Hiking Trail and not a Biking Trail. Yes I can see bikes on the trail, however, it may cost million of dollars to upgrade the trails to accomodate bikers in some areas.

  • JBlack
    July 15, 2014 - 10:07

    As a user of the ECT I don't see any problem with a shared trail. Many days I am hiking I might not see another person. I think the opportunity to amalgamate this into a hiking and biking trail is a great opportunity for the province and the trail association; especially with regards to fundraising efforts and the opportunities for bigger grants from the province. The trails link to many beautiful communities where there are wonderful little B&B's, this could generate more money into the communities that the trails connect. It's silliness that the hikers would want something so grand and beautiful all to themselves. This is idea of the bikers causing damage is foolishness, almost like the stigma about skateboarders. 99.9% of the bikers on the trail will be respectful and leave the trail exactly as they found it. There is always a bad apple no matter what group they belong to, I've saw hikers causing damage in La Manche Village to the last decrepit house so they could use the wood for fire and to build shelter for the night. If I have to step off the trail to let a bike pass, no big deal, it's some time to share a hello, talk about the beautiful sights, wildlife sightings or sea life ect…, with my fellow trail user. Bikers and Hikers on the trail will bring great things to the ECTA, working together as one to make this world class hiking and hopefully biking trail, bigger and better than it already is. ECTA please open your eyes and see the many opportunities this will bring not only to your association but to the people, the small business owners and our beautiful province.

  • Iris
    July 15, 2014 - 10:00

    Financial greed and self-interest, colluded in by the Dept of Tourism, once again triumph, ironically under the name "Sacred Rides." Many, many hiking trails ban mountain bikes including the Appalachian Trail and the Bruce Trail, the latter with the exception of roads sections. The so-called "scientific studies" that bikes cause no more harm than hikers are few and partial, and of dubious relevance to the East Coast Trail. One widely cited from "Guelph University" is in fact a recent graduate student paper based on slopes in Ontario of 10-15 degrees, and the author herself concedes it is not the last word. (See website Mountain Bikes). The fact there are no documented "accidents" between hikers and bikers on mixed use trails is scarcely the point; real damage goes beyond physical injury; it includes loss of a quiet connection to nature and having to be constantly alert to sound of an oncoming bike. The tactics of the mountain bike tour company and their local franchise holders verge on bullying. Bike tires cause ruts. Period. It is observable. No amount of rationalization can alter this. Last summer you could already see this on the Cape Spear trail, and these were cause by occasional riders not organized packs of bikes. One thing this sorry situation points out is how fragile the East Coast Trail as a whole is to "development" and its holy grail, the buck and the crying need for legislation to protect it. Let's all who care about the future of the East Coast Trail make this an issue in the next election.

    • JMAP
      July 15, 2014 - 13:27

      "Greed and self-interest" can also be attributed to the ECTA. If everyone had your attitude nothing would be shared. Those trails were there and used by our ancestors, who managed to manoeuvre them w/out any type of stairs or rails in place. If the ECTA decided to stop maintaining the trail system today, it would still to be used and would be maintained by others.

  • Jon Keefe
    July 15, 2014 - 08:49

    Maybe we can open up the Grand Concourse to shared usage while we're at it!

    • Ray Gosine
      July 15, 2014 - 20:14

      This is an excellent suggestion. Mount Pearl and Paradise are far ahead of St. John's when it comes to multi-use trails. Go to any other city in Canada, large or small, to find much more progressive multi-use trail systems. It does not require major investment and could be achieved with a little education, signage and some limited calming features along the trails.

  • J
    July 15, 2014 - 08:38

    Well, having grown up in Witless Bay I can assure you that you never created that portion of the East Coast Trail. It was always there. We were always on it. Walking, mountain bikes, dirt bikes. This was the late 80's, early 90's. If I want to go down there today with a mountain bike that's my prerogative.

  • Mr. Murphy is grossly misinformed
    July 15, 2014 - 08:24

    It would appear that Mr. Murphy is having trouble understanding the situation. He has wrongly accused mountain bikers of abusing a trail network that he claims was "created" by the ECTA. The fact of the matter is that Mr. Murphy is the only one acting inappropriately. The license granted to the ECTA clearly states that they have no right to refuse access, yet that is exactly what he is trying to do. This is a fact that Mr. Murphy had to be reminded of by the provincial government. Furthermore, the ECTA did not "create" the trail network. They have done some fantastic work, but many of the paths were in use long before the ECTA existed. Input from Mr. Murphy was not required to move ahead with the development of a local business opportunity. Despite this fact, attempts were made to include him in the process and he choose to exclude himself from the discussion. I applaud the mountain bike community for coming forward to support this new endeavor. There is great potential here to showcase the natural beauty of our province and contribute to the local economy. It seems as though Mr. Murphy needs to be reminded again that the ECT network does not belong to him.

  • Malcolm Simpson
    July 15, 2014 - 07:32

    I'd like Mr Murphy and the rest of the East Coast Trail Association to imagine this scenario: for the past 20 years mountain bikers systematically developed trails for themselves from Topsail Beach to Cappahayden and claimed it for themselves. Nobody else was allowed on it. What would the hiking community think of that? The ECTA has to get their heads out of their elitist arses. Shared use trails are fair, correct and workable. Trails are for everybody.

  • Mel
    July 15, 2014 - 05:53

    I was on the Section of the ECT that spans from Torbay to Flatrock on Sunday and was surprised at its condition. There were several sections that where quite overgrown and other areas that had significant washouts. The ECTA needs more volunteers to help with trail maintenance, and I'm sure the mountain bike community would gladly lend a hand if the trails were shared.

  • Chris Boyce
    July 15, 2014 - 05:24

    As member of the local MTB community, I would gladly volunteer and support the ECTA in helping them maintain and build existing and new sections of trail for multi use access - It benefits us all to improve the quality of our trail network and diversify its use because more users equals more financial support and more trails. We need an open minded approach so we can work together to enhance this great resource.