By Spencer Fitschen
Published: March 1, 2012
The conversation around the construction and maintenance of the trail network in and around Squamish needs some clarification.
Often referred to as “mountain bike” trails, the multi-use trails must be more accurately referred to simply as the trail network. Runners, hikers, walkers, trials motorcycle riders, and those in the equestrian community all use these trails along with mountain bikers; and the construction of these trails has been done by many in these other trail user groups including logging companies.
Sheer numbers, the type of machinery (narrow tires), and riding style (skidding down steeper inclines) results in the mountain bikes causing the greatest impact on the trail network.
Of the 33 events that I can find that use the trails around Squamish, only 2 are hosted by organizations outside of Squamish, and one of these uses the Sea to Sky Trail.
Of the 4820 (approx.) participants in trail events in Squamish, 500 are runners, 30 are trials motorcycle riders, and the remaining 4290 are mountain bikers. Of these mountain bike riders, 3640 or 85% participated in one of the events hosted by a Squamish based organization.
The two trail based events hosted by organizations from outside Squamish (BC Bikerace and Sea to Sky Trail Ride) have both been invoiced the $5.00 fee per entrant, and the BC Bikerace organization has paid these fees; the same cannot be said of all of the local events.
As far as for-profit event organizers coming to Squamish to benefit from “our” local trail work, there are two. The locally organized events, daily traffic, and commercial tour operators conducting shuttles and trail rides are by far greatest risks to the health of the network, with the commercial operators only on the hook for a business license!
The Half Nelson trail opened in early 2010, and during that year more than 12,000 riders used that trail, and of those, less than 1,000 were participating in an organized event.
One of the very real causes of the poor condition of the network of trails around Squamish has been the way that maintenance has historically been done.
Before a race, the busy worker bees all go out and repair the trails that will be ridden during the event, with little, and usually no post race work to repair the damage done by up to 1000 riders on race day.
The post race condition of the trails is what we in the community have to endure for most of the year as a result of this method of trail maintenance; if the weather is poor on race day – as it often is – this impact is even more dramatic.
This brings me to the economic benefit of trails. The GranFondo has recently made public a report claiming a $650,000 economic benefit to the local economy, Test of Metal Inc. has long said that $1,000,000 is injected into Squamish as a result of their race, the last figure I read in the Squamish Chief was $2,000,000 from the Test of Metal.
Anyone with a slide rule, some critical thought and 60 seconds can tell that these numbers mean nothing in the real world. Using the same logic applied by the organization that puts together the Granfondo, the Exxon Valdez oil spill was a tremendous boost to the economy of Alaska, as was the oil spill in the Squamish River estuary.
Clean up crews are hired, people are put to work running boats, hotels are booked, restaurants feed the workers, consultants write reports etc.
Real numbers must be produced, with a true accounting of the plusses and the minuses associated with these events before we decide how much if any municipal tax money will be invested in supporting trail based events.
If we decide are investing in community infrastructure (like the stick and ball sports infrastructure), we as a community must make the decision to raise taxes to pay for it; there is no extra money in the current budget to simply fund trail infrastructure, and borrowing more money is not an option…..we have to pay the piper eventually.
Charging organizations money to use community assets is common – soccer clubs pay to have the lights on, men’s fastball paid for the lighting on a ball diamond, hockey players pay for ice time, golfers pay on the municipal golf course, BMX racers raised money for their track, music festivals pay to use grass fields – and if the trails are community funded assets, users should pay to help offset the costs associated with maintaining this infrastructure.
It could well come to pass that when the hard realities of funding the trails through municipal taxes is realized, trail users may decide that volunteer labor and fund raising within the user clubs for construction and maintenance of the trail infrastructure is the easiest way to go.
This has already been partly realized by the introduction of a SORCA trail pass. If carried through to its logical end, all clubs should together be offering a Squamish Trail Pass.
The Squamish Dirt Bike Association proposed this a few years ago at a meeting of the Squamish Backcountry Trails Coalition, with the goal of offering it through all trails based clubs, and at shops where visitors could buy one. Maybe the time has come for this initiative to be put in place.