A private tour company is organizing mountain bike tours along sections of the East Coast Trail, but the association that oversees the trail is opposed to it.
The East Coast Trail Association posted a notice on its website on Friday, advising hikers that there would be mountain bikers on the trail over the weekend.
It said that Sacred Rides Mountain Bike Adventures had scheduled a mountain bike tour on several paths without the association's approval.
"That trail has been developed as a hiker trail," said association president Randy Murphy.
"When we started this in '94, we met with all our stakeholders — towns, the province, the funding agencies, the federal government — and everybody basically approved the project, based on [that] it was a pedestrian trail. It was funded based on that. All of our volunteers, all our permissions with landowners, Crown and private, were based on developing a hiker trail. Plus our insurance policy is based on it being a hiker trail."
The association said it can't endorse the use of mountain bikes on the trail because hiking and biking on a single-track coastal trail poses serious safety issues for both hikers and bikers.
It also said that the trail bed is not hardened enough to handle bike traffic without considerable damage to the paths, and that boardwalks and stairs were designed for hikers, not bikers.
Association voiced its concerns
When the East Coast Trail Association became aware of Sacred Rides' intention to use the trail for mountain biking, it said it shared its concerns with the provincial government and the out-of-province tour operator.
The group said it didn't hear back from the company, even though a mountain bike tour was scheduled on trail paths last week.
It said more tours are scheduled in August and September — without the association's approval.
Mountain bikers want to share
Chris Jerrett, the owner of Freeride Mountain Sports, said he loves riding his bike on the East Coast Trail.
"The scenic beauty of the coastline, the ocean, the ruggedness of the trail, and the hardness of the rock. It makes for a unique trail experience," he said.
Jerrett is part of an effort to develop local mountain biking as an international tourist draw.
He said the tour includes a portion of the coastline trail in Torbay and Flatrock.
Jerrett said that he tried over the past few years to speak with the East Coast Trail Association about the use of the trail for the bike tours, but he said they didn't get back to him.
He said there's room for everyone on the East Coast Trail, since bikers are interested in the rougher sections that are less groomed — areas that hikers might avoid.
"We want to just have these open discussions with all trail users — snowshoers, mountain bikers, hikers, everybody — and have some coastal trail sections for all users," Jerrett said.
Province says compromise is needed
Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism won't stop the mountain bike tours from running along the East Coast Trail, and said that a compromise between the two groups is needed.
In a statement, the department said there are more than 265 kilometres of trail along the eastern Avalon, including some older roads that might be suitable for mountain biking.
Minister Sandy Collins said he doesn't want to take sides, but said he can't rule out the tourism potential of mountain biking.
"I think it's important to have the conversation and not just shut it down immediately, but I don't want [it] to be the end, we'll say. I want the two groups to be able to suss this out between the two of them, because at the end of the day, they have to co-exist if it does go ahead," he said.
"What I want to see, and what I suggested, is to get the two groups together to come to an agreement, something that works for both, something that both are comfortable with."
Collins said while motorized vehicles can't be used on the Crown land portions of the trail, the status of pedal bikes is less clear.