Happy trails

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It should come as no surprise that the kerfuffle over mountain bikes on the East Coast Trail is only a microcosm of a much larger debate.

For the past couple of weeks, mountain bikers and hikers have been squaring off over the question of allowing bikes on the East Coast Trail. The association that oversees the trail is dead set against it; a local tour operator decided to arrange some tours anyway.

This week, the provincial Department of Tourism came down firmly on the side of hikers, assuring the East Coast Trail Association that it considers the trail a pedestrian-only zone.

Without clear legislation, however, there’s technically nothing to stop bikers from rolling along the coastal route. And judging from events on the opposite side of North America, the debate is not likely to go away any time soon.

In December 2013, the U.S. Forestry Service issued a letter to a lobby group stating it will not lift its ban on bicycles on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The trail is more than 4,000 miles long, stretching from the Canadian border in Washington to the Mexican border with California. Bikes have been banned since 1988.

The pressure to open trails has been intense, and comes primarily with a recent boom in mountain biking activity. It’s estimated there are as many as 45 million mountain bikers in the U.S. alone, although estimates vary widely. A Corporate Research Associates market profile puts the number in Canada much lower, at about one million.

But the Internet is rife with debate as more and more recreational biking groups try to horn in on designated pedestrian walkways.

The arguments are fairly consistent across the board.

Mountain bikers insist they don’t damage trails any more than hikers.

That they’re all nature lovers and that they’re all respectful. And that no one owns the trails anyway.

Hikers, on the other hand, point to the decidedly different atmosphere that biking brings to a wilderness adventure. Tensions rise when bikers, some of them loudly vocalizing their excitement, come barrelling down a hill or whipping around a corner.

There is a physical danger, of course, though that’s not the main concern. You’re more likely to injure your ankle on a rock than get sideswiped by a rogue handlebar.

But the experiences are different, and in many ways incompatible on a narrow trail that winds across rugged terrain, with numerous pinchpoints along the way.

And that’s exactly why bikes are still banned on the Pacific Crest Trail.

“When you start changing things a little bit, you get a slippery slope of changing the trail experience,” PCT spokeswoman Beth Boyst told Lake Tahoe News last year.

Surprisingly, the PCT does permit equestrian use. But that’s a horse of a different colour.

Organizations: Department of Tourism, East Coast Trail Association, U.S. Forestry Service Corporate Research Associates Lake Tahoe News

Geographic location: California, North America, Washington U.S. Canada

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Recent comments

  • MeC
    August 01, 2014 - 14:36

    Shared hike-bike trails/paths are dangerous, in any case. People (hikers) have been severely injured or killed by bikes on shared trails. Back in 2010 a group of medical doctors in Oregon wrote about such multi-use trail dangers: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/06/in_forest_park_biking_and_hiki.html. Recently, on the West Coast of BC, a US tourist was hit by a bike on a shared path: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/07/26/charmaine-mitchell-seawall_n_5623610.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-british-columbia&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

  • MEC
    August 01, 2014 - 13:37

    Multi-use (hike-bike) trails and paths become dangerous to use, also, when a US tourist on the West Coast was hit by a bike while walking on the Stanley Park Sea Wall, this past week, and fell down the steep slope, breaking her back. Medical Doctors out of Oregon wrote about the dangers of shared trails, in 2010 - http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2010/06/in_forest_park_biking_and_hiki.html

  • Maggy
    August 01, 2014 - 13:07

    Thanks for your reply Peter but unfortunately it does resolve the issue I raised. First some refutation of my own. I cast absolutely no aspersion on the ECTA let alone make any ‘serious allegation’. My comment on today's editorial, last week's editorial and the Telegram article of July 30 were observations - albeit critical ones. They stand on their own merit - as do your editorials - but I would hardly characterize them as allegations. But of course you're free to interpret them as you see fit. Putting aside my viewpoint on multi-client use of the trails (having previously argued for additional information, further analysis, civil discourse, and compromise), my concern in this instance was one of journalistic quality. Perhaps I'm old-school, but I would never have published the July 30 article without either (1) a substantiation of government's position (second hand doesn't count), or (2) a qualification in the article that it is based on the views, comments and interpretation of the meeting by the ECTA - and that the minister was not available for comment in advance of press time. I don't mean to split hairs, but I think it worth noting that within that article there was some incongruity between the statements ascribed to the ECTA and assertions of fact by the reporter - and for that matter - the headline. I have also read the minister's statement, which by the way does not appear on government's website and I had not seen in any other publication. I have two concerns. The first is that - yes - I think it was incumbent on the Telegram to publish that statement the following day to address the very issue I have raised (and raised at the time). Whether or not the reporter had 'accurately summarized the facts' is moot; this is about hearing the facts from the horse's mouth. Secondly, I once again fail to find within the minister's statement full substantiation of the assertions made in that article and repeated in your editorial today. No doubt the minister was parsing his words -(he's a politician) but I challenge anyone to show where in those words he asserts that the trail is defacto a 'pedestrian-only zone'. Yes the minister acknowledged the position taken by the association to that effect and lauded its good work - as we all do - but if coming 'down firmly on the side of hikers' is meant to say he opposed biking on the trail - let alone commit to blocking it - then of course that simply isn’t in evidence. I understand the news business - it's a hectic, demanding at times thankless job. Mistakes get made. Usually no big deal - not even in this case. But when there is a departure from good journalistic form - as there was in the July 30 article - then you endeavour to fix it with your next offering. What I don't like to see is something that was not supportable in the first instance take on a life of its own and itself become the bedrock from which other journalistic or editorial contributions are built. But no, there is no allegation here, no intent to impugn anyone's integrity - merely an observation that articles and editorials should be properly grounded.

  • Peter Jackson
    August 01, 2014 - 10:18

    Hi Maggy, You're making some pretty serious allegations there about The Telegram and the trail association. Some disclosure and refutation is in order. First, I wrote both editorials. We don't sign them. They are often discussed among senior editors, and almost always vetted. As far as I know, we will continue to use the unsigned "paper's voice" format for editorials into the foreseeable future. Second, the minister's viewpoint was not expressly available when the original article was written because of the late hour. But the minister did issue a statement to the media the next day which was read aloud on CBC radio. We didn't feel there was anything left to add to our story, as we'd already accurately summarized the facts. Below is the minister's statement. It confirms that while he hoped for compromise, the department considers the position of the ECTA to be paramount. I hope this clears things up for you. ----- As a volunteer organization, valued partner, and the organization responsible for operation and maintenance of the East Coast Trail, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation is supportive of the East Coast Trail Association and understands and respects the position put forward by the association. Hiking and biking are tourism activities that are growing in popularity internationally and Newfoundland and Labrador has tremendous potential. The department is supportive of new experiences which can grow the tourism industry in the province. As such, the department encouraged dialogue between the two parties to determine if a compromise could be reached in identifying a section of the 265-kilometre trail that could have accommodated both activities, without compromising the integrity of the trail. The East Coast Trail Association has now clearly articulated to the department that, in its view, there is no room for compromise with respect to the association’s position that the East Coast Trail should remain pedestrian only. The Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation is committed to facilitating the creation of new and memorable experiences designed to connect travelers to the special places, people and culture in our province, but only with the support of all its partners. As a tourism activity, the department will continue to work with tour operators to explore opportunities for mountain biking in the province.

    • Dolf
      August 02, 2014 - 06:12

      Peter, not signing your editorials leaves you open to the wrath of Bob Wakeham, as if anybody cares.

  • Maggy Carter
    August 01, 2014 - 08:59

    This is a much less shrill, more balanced editorial than last week's 'Bikes Away' rant from the Telegram. But it contains what appears to be a major flaw. Your assertion that government has come down on the side of hikers, and that it considers the trail a 'pedestrian-only zone' is unsubstantiated. It is presumably an extrapolation from another Telegram article two days ago claiming the province had indeed sided with the position of the ECTA. The problem with that article is that it failed to cite any authoritative source. It reported that the ECTA had met with government and that its president, Randy Murphy, was pleased with the tenor of the talks. Absent any corroborating statement from the minister of tourism or other departmental representatives, the article serves as a textbook example of flawed journalism. It might well be that the province has adopted a new position on trail use. But the public has no way of knowing that based on the July 30th article. Your decision to incorporate in your editorial today as fact, something that is not in evidence, is a further breach of journalistic standards.