Bikes away

The Telegram
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This week’s winner in the we-don’t-care-what-you-say-we’re-doing-it-anyway department is Cape Race Cultural Adventures Inc., local franchisee of Sacred Rides mountain biking tours.

Company owner Ken Sooley told The Telegram last weekend that he has, indeed, gone ahead and scheduled mountain bike tours on parts of the East Coast Trail against the express wishes of the association that oversees it.

His actions have raised the rankles of those who’ve worked tirelessly for years to open up and develop this pedestrian trail.

Pedestrian trail? Indeed, for that is what it is. The designation is actually spelled out in provincial legislation.

In 2010, the government wrote legislation that defined the specific parameters of hiking trails around the province as part of the Pedestrian Trails Liability Protection Act. The East Coast Trail is specifically cited in the regulations:

”The East Coast Trail, established by the East Coast Trails Association Inc. and marked reasonably clearly as a recreational hiking trail … including Crown land and privately owned land … is designated as a trail to which this Act applies.”

If you think “pedestrian” is a loose term, think again. The act doesn’t define it directly, but another piece of legislation, The Highway Traffic Act, does: “a person on foot, a handicapped person in a wheelchair or a child in a carriage or a sleigh.”

In fact, when it came to wider and more accommodating sections of the Grand Concourse that winds through St. John’s — and in collaboration with the authority that oversees it — the government took the extra step of amending the Grand Concourse Authority Act to specifically include the term bicycle. In other words, if the word bicycle is not in the designation, it is not part of the equation.

But the local mountain bike lobby has decided none of this matters. They want a piece of that trail, and they’re going to take it.

That raises an alarming spectre — the splintering of the trail. It would be a real kick in the guts to the people who kept the dream alive for so long to create one continuous sinew of coastal adventure.

On Wednesday, the Nature Conservatory of Canada (NCC) pointed out that a small portion of the trail actually belongs to it. And a spokesman said he wasn’t sure whether they could allow this new intrusion.

“We’ve yet to have any conversations with the event organizers, because, unfortunately, they didn’t reach out to us, and I don’t know why that is,” he said.

The NCC is not the only stakeholder. Other private land owners reluctantly allowed access to the trail with the understanding that it was for hikers only. Heaven knows if they’ll keep up their side of the bargain.

All this because a bike tour operator decided nothing else can substitute for this one stretch of trail. No other alternatives — not even ones they could invest their own sweat equity in instead of usurping that of others — will do.

One more example of how crass self-interest continues to occupy the vacuum left by dwindling common decency.

Bikes away!

Organizations: The Telegram, East Coast Trails Association, NCC Grand Concourse Authority

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • shalay@nf.sympatico.ca
    July 19, 2014 - 12:35

    The tour information on Sacred Bikes website did remove Cape Spear as a site in the past days, but STILL advertizes riding at Maddox Cove. It's understandable that the Nature Conservatory is concerned about your using their privately owned land at Maddox Cove. and wrote to you to clarify that you don't have their permission. By all means, develop your own bike trails. But you can't expect ECTA to partner with you on mixed use trails. It's up to them to decide what their priorities are and how best to manage the ECT system.

  • Moderator
    July 19, 2014 - 10:22

    This piece is an editorial, not a column. Russell Wangersky did not write it.

    • Maggy
      July 19, 2014 - 13:03

      Glad to hear. I think it was Peter Jackson who had said earlier this week that Wangersky writes most of the editorials. Bit over the top and certainly did nothing to calm the waters.

  • Maggy Carter
    July 18, 2014 - 21:32

    Your rant (Russell?) comes precariously close to the intolerant, intemperate, illogical response from councillor Galgay to Mount Pearl's position that it doesn't want to pay for a highway it opposed from the get-go. The biker/hiker debate is not nearly as clear cut and obvious as your column suggests. I won't recite the pros and cons. Those on both sides of the divide have already done that. I'm more interested in the process. Rather than engage in rationale debate, some - like yourself - have rushed to judgement and in so doing cast the other side as arbitrary and intransigent. You imply the tour group didn't take the time to consult. They did. The ETC Association has already admitted it didn't want to talk - that its answer was a flat no! Your column tries desperately to conjure a legal impediment to the presence of bikes on the trail. I'm not convinced one exists. Easy enough to create one of course. But before that would happen, government would first want to examine the facts, consult the stakeholders, and perhaps look for innovative solutions. Had your column invited such a calm, open, objective approach, I would have endorsed it. But - reading between the lines - I sense this was written by an angry hiker - someone not particularly interested in the kind of discussion he accuses the other side of by-passing. Incidentally, I'm a hiker - not a biker. I occasionally use the East Coast Trails but more often it is the Grand Concourse or the National Parks trails. My infrequent encounters with bikers have been uneventful. (Wish I could say the same about dog owners - off-leash and on.) We are a province that boasts tremendous open space and natural bounty. That said, we have a small population and limited means. It behooves us to find ways to share, cooperate, cut costs and accommodate wherever possible in order that everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy that bounty.

    • Elagabalus
      July 19, 2014 - 21:23

      I agree with you. All pay taxes so all should be able to use the Grand Concourse as they wish. ATVs,motorbikes,horses if you have'em;cars,Mack trucks,sleighs in winter,I'm fat and lazy so I'd like to be carried on a litter by my servants;even elephants cause imagine the excitement of not knowing what comes round the corner on the trail. I agree also about the dogs-I hate it when they come charging at me and the owner blithely saying don't worry he is friendly! Yes sure to you the owner who feeds him! hate dog owners!

  • Sick of the Shills
    July 18, 2014 - 11:16

    Natter natter natter. You can twist yourself in all the knots you wish trying to validate your incorrect position that government intended to exclude bicyclists from the trails The act you quote is related to liability issues - not a designation of use. You fyrther weaken your position by pointing out a similar act includes language specific to cyclists - which begs the question why would government be inconsistent in their legislation if the two ats had the intent to limit use. Finally, the minister's statement in the press release announcing theliability act is very clear; 'Our trails are tremendous assets which attract visitors to a region and generate economic activity by complementing services offered by area businesses, including tourism operators' - which contradicts the positon of many elitists that the trails were not intended to be used commercially. If the ECTA or any other user group wants government to grant them powers that supersedes citizen's rights to use the outdoors, let them lobby for it and hold a public debate. Their attempts to privatize public resources retroactively without public consent is shameful, crass, and completely self interested. They and those that support their position are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.

  • Robin Whitaker
    July 18, 2014 - 09:01

    Media coverage is falsely and unhelpfully spinning this issue as an "us vs them" fight between mountain bikers and hikers when the truth is that we have more interests in common than differences that divide us. We would all benefit from joining efforts against the real threats to trails - primarily development. (I know of several bikers, including me, who wrote in support of the Ragged Beach campaign, for example.) Also, how does allowing non-motorized mountainbikes to share the trail with hikers on suitable sections "splinter" the trail? No one is proposing that bikers deny access to hikers. There are many, many examples of successful shared trails, including the Stuckless Pond trail in Gros Morne, with all its boardwalk and singletrack. We really need a more rational discussion about all this, informed by evidence, not prejudice.

    • Will Fowler
      July 18, 2014 - 10:49

      As the bike trail design expert said yesterday on Crosstalk, it's very rare to see mountain bikers and hikers operate on a narrow single tract trail. He was good to point out the propagated line about growing popularity of multi use trails. Those trails are designed as such and are generally wider paths. The two most famous US hiking trails: Pacific Crest and the AT are both closed to bikers for safety and design considerations.

  • Let cool heads prevail
    July 18, 2014 - 08:27

    This argument seems to have escalated very quickly in the media this week, I suppose we can blame a slow news week? Either way, there seems to be a lot of inaccurate information being spread around. Can people on bikes keep using the small sections of trail they have been using for 20 years? This seems to be the accurate question. So what is going to change exactly? Are there new sections of trail the bike community want to use? No, that doesn't seem to be what they are asking for. Are they breaking any laws by using the trail? No, they are not. Are they offering investment and help to maintain the trails they are already using in exchange for official recognition? Yes, they have said so. Do they want to work in partnership with the ECTA on new sections of trail for both users? Yes they do. What on earth is the big deal about all this? Once you take the emotion and prejudice away you are left with some reasonable questions and concerns on both sides that I'm sure can be worked out when they sit down and talk. We live in a beautiful part of the world with some of the most outstanding coastline I have seen anywhere. Its here for all to enjoy, so lets figure out a way for that to happen and stop pretending its impossible.

    • Mark Stacey
      July 18, 2014 - 17:23

      "reasonable questions and concerns on both sides that I'm sure can be worked out when they sit down and talk" Excellent summary of the situation right here.

  • david
    July 18, 2014 - 08:26

    The only thing more disingenuous than the sterotype that "Newfoundlanders are so friendly" is the assumption that we're even civilized. This island is a terribly anti-social place, where goons flaunt the law and walk over the rights of others constantly. But it is a very odd thing that the only time anyone notices or cares about this is when such behavior has an impact on tourists ---- as if we ourselves simply accept or deserve such treatment. Pathetic.

    • Miners53
      July 18, 2014 - 16:54

      I have to agree with David 100%. People come into our area Wilderness Ski Dooing,hunting ,fishing and I welcome them and show them what they are looking for. A couple of years ago I was fishing from boat In Bishops Falls ,when a well known leader of an outdoor group was swearing in his boat next to us about the idiots that were coming from all over Nl taking their spots for Fishing. I reminded him that he can come into our area Ski doing freely in the spring and is very welcome. The land in our province belongs to us all and Fellow Newfoundlanders need to be reminded this the most.

    • david
      July 20, 2014 - 08:48

      Good for you., But that story has nothing to do with this issue, nor my opinion on it.

  • Ken Sooley, CapeRace
    July 18, 2014 - 07:55

    It is important to note that the trails we rode on were EITHER mixed-use trails, such as the excellent biking-hiking trails at Pippy Park, or trails that mountain bikers have commonly been using years before and after the ECTA arrived, near Flatrock to Torbay. We did not, and had no plans to, ride on nature reserves, private property, near historic sites or on any other ecologically sensitive areas as the ECTA has been indicating. We did not ride through the town Torbay. Our tour conducted last week had one rider with one guide, and covered 12 km of this trail. The remaining time the rider, on foot, enjoyed everything St. John’s has to offer including a boat tour with Iceberg Quest, a visit to Signal Hill, dining in a number of restaurants, listening to great Newfoundland music and lots of downtown shopping. On July 9th I sent a letter to the Nature Conservatory of Canada (NCC) indicating there were no plans to ride on their property immediatly after they were notified we intended ride there. I have contacted them and expect a conversation to clear the record. (letter to NCC posted on Telegram site) It’s been a difficult task to clear up the widespread misinformation this week. As a number of readers suggested, we do plan to build our own trails. We are currently in discussions to develop new coastal mountain biking trails with a number of stake-holders, which will be presented as mixed-use trails that will be open to hikers and bikers as are the trails in Gros Morne Park. We view the East Coast Trail Association as a potential partner for this effort. In any case the ECTA has agreed to meet with ourselves and Sacred Rides, along with the Department of Tourism Culture and Recreation to discuss and clear up the widespread misunderstandings. We are all hopeful we will reach common ground and a resolution acceptable to all parties.

  • Mark Reccord
    July 18, 2014 - 06:29

    You fail to mention several things here: 1. that mountain bikers are only looking for access to a very small portion of the total East Coast Trail. Primarily, two sections of trail that they were using (and maintaining) prior to the existence of ECTA. I don't think the NCC owns the land that either section occupies. 2. This is not just an issue with a tour operator. It's also about official access to local mountain bikers, who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, etc. and not a pack of hooligans as some would have you believe. 3. Most of the trail is on crown land and ECTA's license does not grant them the right to dictate the users, assuming they are non-motorized. Cleary, privately owned sections are another matter. The sections of trail in question are quite conducive to mountain biking and weren't "designed" by ECTA at all, so to claim that those pieces were designed as a hiking only trail is disingenuous.