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Hiking and walking more popular than mountain biking in North Cowichan: trail survey

Economic development may conflict with residents’ desire for uncrowded trails

Hikers and walkers represent almost 60 percent of trail users in North Cowichan and Cobble Hill compared with mountain bikers at 30 percent, a survey has found.

Other users cite trail running, horseback riding and nature appreciation as their primary activities.

Aggie Weighill, director of the World Leisure Centre of Excellence at Vancouver Island University (VIU), told North Cowichan’s economic development committee on Friday that of 1,010 participants in the survey, about 82 percent hailed from the Cowichan Valley, and 97 percent from Vancouver Island.

Hiking and walking combined outscored mountain biking at every location in the survey — even at Mount Tzoulahem and Maple Mountain, considered among the top mountain biking destinations on Vancouver Island.

— Mount Tzouhalem: 50.6 percent versus 42 percent.

— Maple Mountain: 53 percent versus 39.8 percent.

— Mount Richards: 64.1 percent versus 26 percent.

— Stoney Hill: 85.9 percent versus 4.3 percent.

— Cobble Hill: 60.8 percent versus 27.4 percent.

— Mount Prevost: 61.9 percent versus 26.9 percent.

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Thirteen trails for expert mountain bikers were recently sanctioned at Mount Prevost, whereas the one main trail for hikers is not sanctioned and goes through private property.

Stoney Hill is not designated for mountain biking.

The Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society and Tourism Cowichan commissioned the survey to better understand the economic and social benefits of trail use in North Cowichan as well as Cobble Hill in the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

In an interview with sixmountains.ca, Weighill said the difference between hiking and walking, including with dogs, is a matter of “intensity and equipment.”

She said she does not object to hiking (34.4 percent) and walking (24.5 percent) categories being lumped together, adding she was asked to differentiate them in the survey to “mirror” earlier research in Nanaimo.

“I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t necessarily have asked the same questions in the same way….”

In the two months prior to taking the survey, all respondents reported spending on average of about $556 on equipment, $108 on restaurants/food, and $69 on incidentals associated with trail use.

Visitors spent an average of about $435 on equipment, $140 on restaurants/food, $92 on incidentals, and $72 on accommodations.

Exactly where the money was spent is unknown.

Weighill cautioned: “People are notoriously bad at estimating what they spent. If they’re reporting to a significant other, usually they low ball. If they’re reporting to other people, they high ball.”

The median level of spending was much lower, which may reflect the fact that some individuals, say, bought new bikes during two-month period, thereby raising the average.

Among hikers only, 68 percent were female, 32 percent male compared with 72 percent male and 28 percent female among mountain bikers.

Hikers had an average age of 61.5 years compared with 47.4 years for mountain bikers.

Hikers generally had lower incomes than mountain bikers — 15 percent versus 32 percent in the category of annual household incomes in the $100,000 to $149,000 range.

Rick Martinson, president of Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society, said there is “huge potential” for economic development associated with trail use.

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“For locals, that’s not necessarily a good thing,” he noted. “It is for the business community.

“I talk to mountain bikers and hikers. They like it not overused, not crowded on the trails…they get to go up their favourite trails and use them to their hearts’ content.…”

Council donates annually to the society, including $172,969 in 2023.

The society’s trail work is focused on mountain biking, but in most cases the public can use the same trails.

Weighill urged education on trail use and safety protocol, including on downhill mountain bike trails.

The survey took place last November and December.

Weighill’s full report will be posted here when available.

A 2022 VIU survey found that 80.4 percent of visitors to the Cowichan region cited parks and public spaces as reasons for visiting while 69.3 percent cited outdoor adventure opportunities.

Further reading: https://www.sixmountains.ca/article/c62b0608-aa4e-43fc-8465-72ca7c16d183

(Photos: hiking and mountain biking on Maple Mountain, walking on Mount Tzouhalem).

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— Larry Pynn, June 3, 2024

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