Tensions rise over off-road vehicles on Whitehorse trails

Tensions over winter trail use in the Whitehorse area are mounting, as low snow pack allows off-road vehicles to access more areas. Mushers and snowmobilers say trucks are damaging trails and making them dangerous and unusable by others.

Some trail users say off-road vehicles are damaging trails, putting people at risk

Jordan Rivest from the group 'Yukon Jeepers' said he tries his best to keep vehicles from getting stuck. Rivest says this photo is from a trip on a road. 'Our intention is not to wreck the trail for anyone else. We're just looking to get out and explore the Yukon using our medium, which is our off-road vehicles,' he said. (Jordan Rivest)

Frustration is mounting for some Whitehorse area trail users who say off-road vehicles are causing damage and putting other trail users at risk.

Jocelyn LeBlanc, who works as a dog-mushing guide, said trails in the Fish Lake area are being chewed up this winter by off-road vehicles, to the point where it's dangerous to pass over with a dog sled. She said she now has to spend time fixing ruts in the trails before taking clients out for tours. 

LeBlanc said the off-road vehicles are compromising the security of others.

"They come on the trails that we work hard on to make it safe and they rut them out," she said.   

​"This year seems to have gotten worse, and I think it's because of the lack of snow and it's easier access for those vehicles to go on the trails and it's not just four-wheelers it's 4x4 vehicles you know, just people with Jeeps or trucks."

North of the city, musher Jean-Marc Champeval has also noticed damaged trails.

"An hour after I prepared the trail, it was destroyed," he said. "It's now not usable for anyone wanting to go on foot, on skis, on a winter bike or for mushing."

It's not just mushers who are upset. The Klondike Snowmobile Association says off-road vehicles are also causing damage to the trails its members maintain within city limits.

The association's vice-president, Jim Connor, would like to see bylaw officers get involved.

"People should be made to pay for the repair of the trails," he said.

Jeepers want access too 

Tension rose this week when a group of off-road enthusiasts called "Yukon Jeepers" took to Facebook to discuss plans for a trip to Alligator lake, an area outside of Whitehorse where a sled dog event is set for Jan. 17. 

Little snow this winter around Whitehorse means off-road vehicles are able to access areas they wouldn't normally be able to reach. (Facebook)

An outcry from mushers prompted the Yukon Jeepers to postpone their trip until after the race. But Jordan Rivest, who administers the Jeepers' Facebook group, says off-road drivers have as much right to use trails as anybody else. 

"For us, we use our off-road vehicles, as opposed to a dog sled or a skidoo. That's the only difference," Rivest said.

Rivest says like any group, there are some bad apples among off-road enthusiasts. Earlier this winter, two trucks were seen driving on the cross-country ski trails at Mount McIntyre, forcing the local ski club to make repairs. Rivest said he doesn't condone that kind of activity but adds most off-roaders are responsible.

With little snow in the Whitehorse area this winter, Rivest says off-road vehicles are able to get to places they otherwise wouldn't be able to access. Last weekend, a group of Jeep owners made a five-hour trip down the Livingston trail, near Lake Laberge.

Rivest is hopeful that a solution can be found, to keep all trail users happy.  

"I don't think that one group should be able to make firm decisions as to who gets access to any of these trails," he said. ​

with files from Claudiane Samson


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