Sanctioning of expert bike trails on Mount Prevost highlights absence of hiking trails
‘No one looked at the whole mountain, what it should look like for recreation purposes’
The sanctioning of 10 bike trails on Mount Prevost — home to world-class riders — is raising questions about the absence of such trails for hikers on the same mountain.
The 2017 North Cowichan Parks and Trails Master Plan concluded that Mount Prevost should focus on “more advanced downhill, shuttle based, mountain biking experiences for intermediate to advanced riders; as well as hiking experiences.”
Six years later, what happened to those hiking experiences?
“The Municipality was awarded grant funding in 2021 that was specific to upgrading the downhill mountain biking trails on Mount Prevost which is why the focus has been on the mountain biking trails,” municipal forester Shaun Mason told sixmountains.ca in an email.
(Read more on the grant: https://bitly.ws/XiPW)
“The trail review and sanctioning process can span several years and is largely dependent on available budget. It is staff’s intent to look into potential hiking opportunities on Mount Prevost as part of future phases of trail development.”
Currently, the main hiking trail to the top of Mount Prevost starts across the street from Bings Creek recycling centre, but runs through private land.
Rick Martinson, president of Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society, supports hiking trails on Mount Prevost.
“No one looked at the whole mountain, what it should look like for recreation purposes,” he said. “That was a gap, it should have been done before any trail work started.”
Councillor Chris Istace, a former director on the trail society, emphasized that expert bikers have been riding Mount Prevost for 25 years and it is those trails that are now being upgraded and sanctioned.
“It is a world-class downhill mountain,” he said.
(Steve Smith: https://bitly.ws/Xjvr)
Istace added: “This isn’t something where hiking is being left out or neglected. It’s just that the first phase was sanctioning existing trails.”
During the process of developing the Parks and Trails Master Plan, Rob Douglas — then a councillor, now mayor — was among those who expressed concern that too much weight was being given mountain bikers.
The master plan contains a 2016 email in which Douglas says “there are a few areas that I am not pleased with and am aware that many others in the community feel the same,” noting “the Master Plan focuses far too much on mountain-biking component rather than other recreational uses….” The draft plan proposed “turning the municipal forest reserve into the ‘Amazing 6’ and expanding the mountain-biking and tourism opportunities.”
Contacted this week, Douglas said the final plan scaled back some of the contentious earlier proposals, including routing trails through First Nations lands, and amounted to more of a compromise. The previous and current councils recognize the value of mountain biking trails, including world-class downhill trails, he said.
As part of the development of Mount Prevost for bikers, a gravel parking lot has already been improved a short distance up the mountain. Posts are installed at key locations; municipal staff are working on trail signs.
Mason said the trail upgrades “meet/exceed the Whistler Trail Standards for these technical black/double black diamond rated downhill trails.”
He anticipates the trails being sanctioned later this year.
Said Martinson: “It’s exciting for us — a sanctioned mountain that is world renowned.”
He noted that the upgraded mountain bike trails on Mount Prevost are steep and not safe for hikers. “Those guys are coming down so fast,” he said.
“For me, the best thing is to create a hike-only area where the hikers will then focus on that. We’re working on a vision statement that will encompass the whole mountain — and horses, too.”
One of the goals is also to create a climbing trail that could be used by both bikers and hikers, similar to A Grand Traverse on Mount Tzouhalem.
Martinson said there will also soon be an on-line public social-and-economic survey on trails at Mount Tzouhalem, Maple Mountain, Mount Prevost, Mount Richards, Stoney Hill and Cobble Hill Mountain. The society is partnering with Vancouver Island University and Tourism Cowichan on the project. The survey will ask how much people spend recreating on trails, but the numbers won’t be specific to money spent in North Cowichan.
The 2017 master plan set out the following vision for the rest of the Six Mountains in the Municipal Forest Reserve:
— Mount Tzouhalem: provide cross-country mountain-biking and hiking experiences for all abilities.
— Maple Mountain: provide more advanced all-mountain biking and hiking experiences as well as equestrian experiences.
— Stoney Hill: provide inland and coastal hiking experiences that connect residents and visitors through the MFR to Stoney Hill Regional Park.
— Mount Richards: provide hiking experiences for all abilities, as well as equestrian experiences.
— Mount Sicker & Copper Canyon: enhance whitewater paddling experience.
The mountain biking community is currently lobbying to create sanctioned trails on Mount Richards.
In March, council forwarded the proposal to the municipality’s economic development committee for review. https://bit.ly/44Z7062
Then, in May, council agreed to look at the ecological impact of trails as part of its Biodiversity Protection Policy. https://bitly.ws/XcJJ
Current municipal policy is that recreational use of the forest reserve “in general is a topic of discussion with the Quw’utsun Nation,” Mason said.
But when the trails on Mount Prevost were first assessed in 2020, “there was no specific referral letter sent seeking Quw’utsun Nation input as there was no formal process established and staff were only upgrading the existing trail networks that had been constructed years prior,” he said.
Cowichan Tribes did not respond to a request for comment.
The Hul’q’umi’num word for Mount Prevost is Swuq’us.
Mount Tzouhalem is busiest of the Six Mountains. Of its 33 sanctioned trails, the vast majority are mixed use.
As for Stoney Hill, Martinson said: “I’ve heard nothing in the biking community about Stoney Hill being a biking destination, so I’d say leave it alone.”
He agreed that most of the society’s work involves bike trails, but noted they require more effort to build and maintain than hiking trails. Mountain bikers have also shown a greater interest in trail development.
According to the 2022 municipal statement of financial information, North Cowichan gave the trail society $134,272.
(sixmountains.ca video of bikers and photo of upgraded parking lot. Trail-work photo courtesy of Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society. All from Mount Prevost.)
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— Larry Pynn, Oct. 15, 2023