Bike tour not treading on NCC’s land

Sacred Rides takes issue with spread of misinformation

Published on July 21, 2014
The East Coast Trail's Sugarloaf Path climbs a hill next to Quidi Vidi harbour. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

A not-for-profit organization’s concerns about a mountain bike tour’s potential use of private land it protects for conservation purposes appears to have been unfounded.

Last week, Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) shared a letter it had sent to Sacred Rides on July 8. In that letter, it questioned how mountain biking might disrupt the local ecosystem on a coastal path that’s part of an 11-acre property in Maddox Cove.

NCC purchased that land in 2011. According to Andrew Holland, NCC’s communications and government relations officer for Atlantic Canada, it was the East Coast Trail Association (ECTA) that first contacted NCC about the tour.

“People have entrusted their dollars to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to buy this land for permanent conservation, so our role is to safeguard it,” Holland told The Telegram last Wednesday. “We want people to enjoy the land ... but it’s not intended to be an area where there is this type of activity that could potentially degrade the habitat.”

In a subsequent email to The Telegram, Holland said tour organizers have confirmed they do not plan to access NCC’s Maddox Cove property, which is a part of the East Coast Trail. NCC has a signed an agreement with ECTA permitting the inclusion of its Maddox Cove property in the trail system. ECTA has indicated it opposes allowing mountain bikes on the trail system, though it has no legal right to keep them off the trails.

“They have informed us directly that Sacred Rides do not plan to utilize our protected natural area at Maddox Cove, which was our primary concern since a section of the East Coast Trail runs through the Nature Conservancy of Canada property,” Holland told The Telegram by email. He went on to thank Cape Race Cultural Adventures owner Ken Sooley for providing clarification.

It was that company that first invited Sacred Rides to visit St. John’s and discuss the area’s suitability as a destination for mountain bike tourism. Officials with the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation were also involved in the those discussions.

In a comment posted to The Telegram’s story last week, Sooley stated an email was sent to Lanna Campbell, program manager for NCC’s operations in Newfoundland and Labrador, the day after her initial letter was sent. In it, he said Sacred Rides never intended to use NCC’s property in Maddox Cove.

The Telegram attempted to arrange an interview with Sooley, but he was travelling outside the province over the weekend.


Sacred Rides reacts

Meanwhile, Sacred Rides, the Ontario company offering guided mountain bike tours, claims the controversy over its planned use of the trail system has unfortunately turned into an us-against-them situation steeped in misinformation.

Sacred Rides owner Mike Brcic, in a lengthy post to the company’s website, said the vast majority of mountain bikers are respectful trail users. He also hopes his company can help educate local bikers about proper trail etiquette.

“It is possible for mountain bikers and hikers to share trails without adversely impacting each others’ enjoyment of the trail, and thousands of examples around the world have shown how this is possible,” he wrote. “We recognize that there is a population of mountain bikers — both in St. John’s and around the world — that do not ride responsibly or respectfully. But there are also disrespectful hikers — and it is our hope that we can play a part in educating local mountain bikers on proper trail etiquette, especially vis-a-vis other users such as hikers.”

From February of this year through to now, attempts to engage ECTA were made on an almost monthly basis according to Brcic, who notes its proposal for shared use involves 12 kilometres of the trail system. There will be caps on the number of annual trips and riders involved.

Brcic went on to note Sacred Rides is willing to contribute a significant portion of revenue generated from the tours towards trail upkeep and development. He said it is unfair for the trail association to claim sole jurisdiction over a system of trails that has existed for decades.

“We have reached out repeatedly to try and engage with the ECTA to discuss a shared-use model for the trail, one that would respect the ECTA’s concerns, provide funding for future development and maintenance, and respect all trail users. The ECTA has proved unwilling to engage or negotiate, leaving us little choice but to move ahead without the ECTA’s blessing.”

According to Sacred Rides’ website, a “Ride the Rock” three-day guided ride is scheduled to take place in early September. According to Brcic, a guided ride held earlier this month only involved two people including the guide.

The Telegram attempted to arrange an interview with Brcic over the weekend, but failed to reach him.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew