British Columbia·Analysis

Mountain bike vs hiker: The other war in the woods

The arrest of a 64-year-old woman for sabotaging North Vancouver mountain bike trails may be a rare occurrence, but conflict in the Great Outdoors is all too common.

Sabotage is rare, but there's lots of room for conflict in the B.C. backwoods

Derek Kidd's throat was slashed when he rode his mountain bike into wire strung across a trail on Vancouver Island. (CBC)

From the seat of Derek Kidd's mountain bike, the wire looked like a branch. As he sped towards it, he saw otherwise.

"It stretched across the entire trail," Kidd says. "It didn't take me off my bike. It definitely stopped me in my tracks."

In the summer of 2013, Kidd was a victim of B.C.'s other war in the woods — an ongoing battle between the many groups that vie for space in the province's outdoors: mountain bikers, hikers, dirt bikers, all-terrain vehicle riders, equestrians.

Kidd wound up with a welt on his neck.

Police later determined the wire had been in the forest on Vancouver Island where he was riding for years. But Kidd says someone had taken the time to fasten it between trees where they knew mountain bikers would be riding.

Sabotage is rare

Conflict rarely leads to the kind of trap-laying allegedly carried out by a 64-year-old woman in North Vancouver. But B.C. Recreation Officer Alistair McCrone says conflict is not unusual.

Two mountain bikers used a wildlife camera to capture images of a woman allegedly dragging obstructions onto some popular mountain bike trails. (Walleater)

"Sabotage or deliberate attempt to injure someone, that's very, very rare," he says. "Almost all of them are just verbal confrontations where one party is complaining to the other about their behaviour."

McCrone oversees 1.8 million hectares of recreational Crown land, including the Sea to Sky corridor between North Vancouver and Whistler. That's a lot of territory, he says; the trick is bringing the various user groups together long enough to figure out how to keep them apart.

"There is space for everyone, and that's one of the understandings that you have to bring to the groups that are in conflict."

Space battle

So how is it possible that people fight for space in a province renowned for the expanse of its wilderness?

Mike Nelson sits on the executive of the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association, which has worked to resolve serious conflicts with dirt bikers. He says the bulk of outdoor lovers frequent the same places.

"The near country is always the more difficult part, because it's that range of, 'Let's go out for a two-hour hike — or a two-hour bike ride;'" says Nelson.

"They're recreating in the same area. So unless you want to travel some distance to get away from that, that near country experience is kind of crowded."

This image of a tree trunk laid across a mountain bike trail was posted on a popular online North Shore Mountain bike forum. (NSMB.com)

Police claim the North Vancouver suspect placed rocks and logs across popular mountain biking trails on the steep North Shore mountains.

In 2013, Oregon psychiatrist Dr. Jackson Dempsey pleaded guilty to assault for stringing nylon cords between trees in the southern part of the state and planting nails in the ground. He told a U.S. Forest Service officer he did it because "he did not like downhill mountain bikers."

"These bikers are bullies"

Monica Craver has been a vocal opponent of the encroachment of mountain bikers into pedestrian territory. The North Vancouver resident is a few years younger than the woman charged, but says online forums have accused her of being the culprit.

"Definitely, I want it said that it's definitely not me, and the bikers know that I have fought my war with words," she says.

Craver claims mountain bikers have left traps to keep each other away from prized trails. She points to online forums with titles like 'Monica Craver needs to get a life.'

"These bikers are bullies. Anybody who says no to them or says you can't ride on this trail - they will fight tooth and nail," she says.

"Where do you draw the line? All these things that are on the trails that are being built by mountain bikers that can injure mountain bikers. Are they considered dangerous?"

Sending a message

The guerrilla warfare stretches beyond the woods.

Police in Victoria say they're still hunting for someone who strung black electrical tape across a road, nearly severing the spine of the cyclist who was thrown from his bike after slamming into the obstruction. 

RCMP say this rope strung up across a popular Nanaimo, B.C., trail could have harmed mountain bikers or other trail riders. (Nanaimo RCMP handout)

Bowen Osoko, speaking for the police department, says it has investigated that incident and several others. 

"If someone is offended or bothered by cyclists moving through their area and they put up something that they think will send a message, they're not just sending a message to anyone who could transit through the area. They're sending a message to their neighbours, and they're sending a message to themselves about the area that they live in," he says.

"I don't know if that's a message that I would want about where I live and about my neighbourhood: which is that it's a place that's not safe."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.