British Columbia

Illegal trail building could net you steep fines, jail time

British Columbia's vast outdoor trail network is renowned around the world, but it's grown increasingly crowded in recent years, pushing hikers and bikers deeper into the woods to build their own unauthorized routes.

Hikers and bikers say more trails are needed to ease trail backcountry congestion

Many hiking and bike trails in B.C. are growing overcrowded, prompting some to venture deeper into the woods to build their own routes. Above, Quarry Rock at Deep Cove on Vancouver's North Shore is often jammed with hikers. (Thierry Vernet)

British Columbia's vast outdoor trail network is renowned around the world, but it's grown increasingly crowded in recent years, pushing hikers and bikers deeper into the woods to build their own unauthorized routes.

Now the province is cracking down, warning trail builders that they face steep fines or even jail time for building on Crown land.

In a news release, the province says offenders could be ordered to restore the trail to its original condition and face fines of up to $10,000. The province says it's cracking down because unauthorized trail building harms the environment.

It can cause soil erosion, disrupt wildlife and spread invasive plants among other things

John Hawkings, director of Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. said unsanctioned trail building is widespread in B.C.'s backcountry.

The Squamish trail network is vast, complicated and one of the highest traffic trail networks in British Columbia, according to Recreation Sites and Trails B.C.. Above, a rider rides on a sanctioned trail. (Ash Kelly)

The Sea to Sky corridor, with its striking scenery and rugged terrain, is a particular area of concern. He said the problem has increased in the last five to seven years, which is disappointing because the province has approved a large number of trails in the same period.

Over promoted, under maintained

Across B.C., the province, municipalities and trail advocacy groups maintain thousands of legal, permitted trails.

But some people who use these trails say they have become crowded as the popularity of mountain biking has grown.

As well, the B.C. government promotes places like the Sea to Sky corridor overseas as a world-class outdoor recreation destination.

"To be frank, the limited trails that are there right now are over capacity and that wouldn't be the case if the government wasn't promoting them so heavily internationally," said Steve Jones, a software executive, who recently ran for Mountain Equipment Co-op's board of directors.

Meadow of the Grizzly is one of 55 new trails approved for construction by the province in the Sea to Sky corridor since 2011. (Ash Kelly)

That traffic is pushing mountain bikers, hikers, and trail builders deeper into the woods and onto the shadow network of hidden trails, according to Jones and others.

The province wants trail builders to follow the rules and apply for permits or tenures to build on Crown land so that it can monitor environmental concerns, slope stability concerns and ensure that First Nations are appropriately consulted.

Hawkings said his department also needs to be able to plan long term for trail networks so that new trails work in tandem with existing trails and don't cause conflict with industry and resource operations.

Eroded and under maintained

Kristen Courtney, community relations director for the Squamish Off Road Cycling Association said the province is creating the overcrowded conditions by approving logging in recreation areas like Squamish.

Courtney also noted high traffic on trails has left many routes eroded and under maintained. She would like to see the province approve more trails that appeal to advanced riders so that existing high-difficulty routes can be repaired.

The province says 55 permitted trails have been added to the Sea to Sky region since 2011.

Hawkins said the stiff penalties are maximums. Most of the time, builders are fined a few hundred dollars.

He noted that most of the unauthorized building is being done by mountain bikers, but Hawkings said hikers, equestrian users, and ATV user groups are also expected to comply.

The Great Wide Open is an outdoor column that airs on CBC's The Early Edition. Listen to it here:

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