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Burnaby backtracking after 'inaccurate' signs show mountain bike trails set for closure

Last Updated Jul 30, 2020 at 5:32 pm PST

Mountain biker on Burnaby Mountain trail. (Submitted: Alex Dove)

City under fire from mountain bikers for signage suggesting it may close number of trails on Burnaby Mountain

Burnaby has since backtracked saying no trails currently closed

The city is conducting an assessment of erosion on steep trails

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Mountain bikers in Burnaby are demanding clarity after the city posted signage indicating most riding trails on Burnaby Mountain will be decommissioned or reclassified as hiking only, in the coming months.

The city of Burnaby says no trails are currently closed and the signage is “inaccurate.”

“No authorization has been given by Council, Commission or the Department to close any trails. Given the massive increase in use, we are assessing the impact this is having on the Conservation Area and we acknowledge that the original signage was incorrect and are replacing it and we apologize for any anxiety and misunderstanding it may have created,”

Hi everyone, as you are likely aware by now, the City of Burnaby has decided to close all singletrack trails on the…

Posted by Burnaby Mountain Biking Association on Thursday, July 23, 2020

The city says the trails are in a conservation area and it has a duty of care and stewardship, citing concerns over erosion on some of the mountain’s steeper trails.

“As careful stewards, we are assessing the condition of some trails in steep areas that have experienced significant erosion and tree root damage due to high use and natural factors,” the city says in a statement.

“As part of our assessment, some trail use designations are under review. Burnaby Mountain is a popular destination for hikers and cyclists alike – something that has only increased during the pandemic – and we continue to manage it in a way that seeks to strike a balance and allow people to enjoy this valuable amenity,” reads the rest of the statement.

The Burnaby Mountain Bike Association (BMBA) held an emergency meeting Thursday evening to discuss the decision and is encouraging riders to write to city council and the mayor to express what the trails mean to them.

“Everybody from small children to 70-year-old adults ride there,” says Judy Garren, the association’s president.

“There’s the biking business: a bike shop (Kinetic Cycle) that leads a weekly group rides on the trails. There’s a women’s mountain biking association called Muddbunnies that takes beginner riders on the trail,” she says, adding it’s one of the region’s friendliest beginner areas.

Restrictive maintenance program

While neighbouring trail organizations have memberships in the thousands and hold dozens of trail maintenance days each year, drawing on thousands of volunteer maintenance hours, the BMBA says the city severely limits its ability to do ongoing work.

“We are only allowed to have four trail days and there’s a lot of activity on the mountain, a lot of users on the mountain, and it’s not enough for the trail maintenance. The trails get eroded. That erosion is what the city’s rationale is for shutting down the trails,” she says.

The city says it needs to protect nearby salmon bearing streams by ensuring erosion from steep trails isn’t doing harm, but the BMBA says it has a good relationship with the Stony Creek Environmental Committee (SCEC). NEWS 1130 has reached out to the SCEC for comment.

Many of the trails that could be reclassified and at least one of the trails facing decommissioning are low-grade (low-angle) and not at risk of the same erosion as the steeper trails, says Garren.

“They understand that our trail maintenance works to help reduce erosion from the trails. The Stony Creek people have been just fantastic to deal with and they are very supportive of our work. So I think there are probably problems with the streams, but most of those are related to SFU and city work,” says Garren.

“In my view, more maintenance is required. The trails that are on the mountain were built 20 years ago with no thought to the manner in which they were built being sustainable,” she admits.

In February, the parks director submitted a unanimously accepted report to council that outlined the BMBA’s wish to do a few more days of maintenance on Burnaby Mountain.

“The timing and makeup of each event is balanced within the yearly operational work plan. The ability to expand any one program is limited; however, the expansion of the number of volunteers that can participate in the events is not. Staff continue to work with all volunteer groups to enable volunteer day events to continue,” according to meeting minutes.

Mountain bike businesses set up shop

A number of high profile mountain bike companies have chosen to locate in Burnaby because of these trails, riders say.

According to city council meeting minutes from February, an estimated 100,000 people use the park annually.

On social media, the economic value of the sport is being championed and the city is being called out of touch.

“I live on the mountain, we moved from Saskatchewan to here for the biking and hiking, we spent near a million on our place and now Burnaby does this? Not even a warning to residents, meanwhile TMX is drilling a tunnel under the mountain and no problems,” writes Pedro Peralta Elgueta.

“I think it’s important to note that Burnaby, an anti-mountain bike community, benefits directly from mountain biking with companies like Knolly Bikes, and Race Face Performance Products & sister brands Fox and Easton both paying taxes and employing a number of people. These are jobs that communities investing in trails would love to have,” says Andrew Major.

“I feel like the City of Burnaby is pretty tone def to the user base (ie. those who enjoy the singletrack). It’s too bad there’s this apparent adversarial relationship, but I suppose there’s bias towards hikers and dog walkers coupled with a concern about the legitimate environmental issues. There has to be a happy medium,” says Jeremy Schwab.

Draft staff report on erosion unavailable

The BMBA says it was completely taken off guard by the decision, the signage and the lack of communication, adding the last time the group was in contact with a park coordinator, things felt positive.

“He was planning to use city funds to create a banner for us to use on the parks tent that we set up at our trail days, we just had to supply a logo. We’ve been working on the logo for some time but it got dropped due to COVID and our lack of funds,” says Garren.

She feels the park coordinator has been difficult to work with and that the department has been withholding a relevant draft report and environmental study of the conservation area.

“We asked our parks contact for a copy of the report, even in draft state, and it was not provided. We were quite concerned but the park’s coordinator assured us that there were no problems and they were still happy to keep working with us. This is why the closures yesterday were such a shock, because we understood that there were no problems,” she explains.

NEWS 1130 requested information, reports or memos pertaining to how the potential closures and reclassifications were decided upon but no reports were provided.

The city of Burnaby also tells NEWS 1130 that trails that have been reclassified as pedestrian only on the recently posted controversial signage were always pedestrian only, but the city’s own map of Burnaby Mountain shows otherwise.

Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area trail map. (Courtesy City of Burnaby)