Landowners and Volunteers Work Together to Manage Community Mountain Biking Trails
Since the 1990s, local mountain-biking pioneers in the Village of Cumberland have been quietly carving out bike trails on the forested hills south of the town. The network winds throughout a working forest that is privately owned by Hancock Forest Management and TimberWest Forest Corp., and until very recently, wasn’t legally accessible.
Now, thanks to a trail access agreement between the municipality, landowners and local mountain-bike club the United Riders of Cumberland, the Village of Cumberland can officially celebrate and promote itself as the place in B.C. “where the mountain biking is legendary.”
Over the years, the United Riders worked to build relationships and credibility with major landowners in the area with the long-term vision of legally sanctioning the trail network. In 2011, municipal council took a fresh look at the issue and recognized that they could play a role in supporting the club to the benefit of the whole community.
The Village created a new parks and outdoor recreation coordinator position who, among other things, supported discussions between the United Riders and the landowners.
Over a three-year period, the United Riders of Cumberland, Hancock, TimberWest and the Village worked to understand each other’s concerns and develop a model that would work for everyone. The landowners’ concerns included liability, communications and public safety. For the volunteer-run club, taking on responsibility (and liability) for the trails was a major undertaking, requiring the United Riders to build the capacity necessary to develop and implement a comprehensive trail management plan.
The United Riders of Cumberland formally committed to take on responsibility for managing the trail network and a memorandum of understanding outlined Cumberland’s role in assisting the organization to move the initiative forward.
The municipal council was supportive and, with the United Riders able to satisfy all requirements of the landowners, an agreement was finalized. A Trails Licence Agreement commenced on Jan.1, 2016, formalizing legal, public trail access in working forests. Trail expansion and maintenance are ongoing activities with joint collaboration between all parties.
With the legal agreement in place, the local community can comfortably and legally use the trails for mountain biking, as well as hiking and trail running – and the impact has spread far beyond local residents.
The community has seized the opportunity to promote its excellent trail network to mountain-biking enthusiasts all over the world – branding itself as the home to legendary mountain biking. Each year, Cumberland is home to a variety of mountain-bike races and events including the BC Bike Race, the biggest single track mountain-biking event in the world. Other races include the Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race , annual enduro, cross-country, downhill and marathon races hosted by the United Riders of Cumberland, and two major trail running races: The Cumby and the Perseverance Trail Run.
The trail network has contributed to an influx of tourists in the summer and year-round. New businesses have popped up along Cumberland’s main street and new residents have been attracted by the community’s laid-back vibe and quick access to outdoor adventure.
Lessons Learned and Final Thoughts
The trails are the resource that both attract visitors and are a key component of the local lifestyle, but the construction and ongoing maintenance of the network requires planning, co-ordination and funding.
Erik Holbek, president of the United Riders of Cumberland, remarks that the organization’s ultimate goal is to have “the best trail network possible,” and the agreement is a fundamental pillar that this vision is built upon.
The goal for TimberWest has always been safe, legal access, and Monica Bailey, director of communications with TimberWest, is happy to see how well this agreement is working, and how quickly the Village of Cumberland is growing because of its world-class trails. Matthew Merritt, a forester with Hancock Forest Management, observes that the agreement includes key safety protocols that enable public recreation to safely take place in working forests.
Sundance Topham, chief administrative officer of Cumberland, notes that this process didn’t happen overnight and acknowledges the perseverance, energy and time that each of the parties put into creating a homegrown solution to a complex resource management issue. He attributes the success of the initiative to the hard work of the club, the high levels of support from council and the community, and the willingness of the forestry companies to collaborate and make the land accessible for everyone.
This ongoing collaboration celebrates the success of the agreement, and recognizes the importance of working together to make Cumberland a world-class destination for adventure.
February 9, 2018