Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trails Versus Trails

 The Balloon Fiesta has now come and gone with a great weekend hosted by that incredible organizing committee.  Even though the weather didn't cooperate all the time, when the balloons go up it is special.  Below is a column I submitted to the KCR which was printed in their September 11, 2012 edition.  I spend more time chatting with hikers than ATV riders but it has often frustrated me when I listened to hikers lament how bad ATVs are for trails and the environment as if all hikers were excellent for the trails and environment.  I can't argue that when a hiker damages a trail it is usually less visual than an ATVs but I think if both user groups work together then both trails and the environment could benefit.  I recently worked on an ATV trail project that improved both the trail and environment and I know of hiking trails that could use similar work.  Feel free to let me know how you feel.

Working for the KWRC, I'm putting the finishing touches on a bridge we built in partnership with the SVATV Club.  The bridge will keep the bikes from crossing a small stream.

The Atlantic International Balloon Fiesta is just around the corner and our household is pretty excited for all the excitement that weekend brings to this great region.  Originally I was hoping to bring you a column on a great balloon ride but alas, my ride was postponed and thus I am left with a scramble to find my inspiration.  Thankfully my job often provides me with many topics that are worth discussing.

At present I am working at separating a recreational trail from an ephemeral stream, one that runs part of the year.  The trail is used by hikers, bikers, and ATV riders.  So what is inspirational about this?  Is it the fact that by separating the trail from the stream I am improving the natural ecosystems while improving the trail?  Is it the scenery in the remote location I am working in?  In fact it comes from the fact that this trail is mainly an ATV trail but in reality it serves as a trail for many uses.

Hikers and ATV riders in the province have been feuding over trail space in the recent past and I feel that more could be accomplished if the tense feelings were set aside.  One of the partners on this "Trail and Aquatic Corridor Restoration Project" is the Sussex Valley ATV Club and already some of their members have worked a tough 10 man days on the project which should wrap up later this week.

A log crib wall helps separate the ATV trail from the stream bed.
As a hiker I understand some of the issues hikers have with the ATV riders but I feel that many are unfounded.  In my mind the only viable argument is the loud noise of the bike engines.  When used properly though a bike can be quiet and have little impact to the environment, especially if on a well developed and properly designed trail.  A good ATV trail also makes a great hiking trail or mountain biking trail.  Even better than that, a protected trail corridor could also serve as a protective corridor for watercourses or sensitive habitats.

As a hiker I don't always use trails and even when I use trails, the terrain they cover wouldn't be suitable for an ATV.  In fact ATV trails provide access to some of the terrain I backpack or hike across.  Without the ATV trail it would mean a lot more hiking to access the area I wish to explore on foot.  In a way I owe thanks to ATV trails or old logging roads for allowing me to more readily explore some wonderful stream valleys and ridges.

The biggest detriment to this issue of hikers versus bikers is those who don't properly use the trail we should share.  Hikers are not entirely innocent here but ATVers who abuse the trail typically have a more noticeable impact on the experience for all.  There are some ecosystems ATVs should avoid, such as stream beds; except at established fording sites, beaches, and areas with plant species with special status.  Hikers can more effectively access such habitats without impacting them.  It is truly about the mindset of the rider or hiker that determines how much impact they might have on the environment.

Maybe you have impacted the environment recently and are looking to offset that impact.  If so, come out on September 22nd to the KWRC's Great Canadian Shoreline Clean Up where you can clean up litter from local river banks.

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