Proposed bike riding park divides Carlington residents

A proposal by the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association to construct a recreation area for cyclists within an existing Ottawa park is threatening to divide the Carlington community.

Community association conducting survey on proposal for Carlington Park

A trail used by walkers and cyclists winds through the western edge of Carlington Park. (Stu Mills/CBC)

A proposal to build a recreation area and trails for cyclists within an existing Ottawa park is threatening to divide the Carlington community.

The Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) is proposing a park with a circuit of small hills and jumps called a "pump track," a mountain bike skills area, dirt jumps, and trails designed for riders of different skill levels. 

The features would be added to the southern and western edges of Carlington Park, eventually taking up about half of the park area over four phases of construction. 

The City of Ottawa supports the project in principle, and River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington says while he's watched the process cautiously, he calls it unique opportunity in central Ottawa where little mountain biking is available. 

'This seems like a good fit'

"This seems like a good fit," said Brockington. "We have an opportunity that aligns with what the city is looking for to maximize opportunities at our parks and green space now."

Ryan Janssens visits Carlington Park with his dog usually twice a day. (Stu Mills/CBC)
Brockington plans to visit Carlington Park this month with city staff to get an idea of how much land will be used for the riding park. "I want to make sure there's significant space left for general use, whatever people want to do — go fly a kite, have their own trails, go for a run," he said.

The councillor calls OMBA a credible, local organization with a record of successfully establishing riding parks in places like the South March Highlands. He adds the riding park here wouldn't have to be permanent. 

The Carlington Community Association has created a survey to gauge how residents feel about the idea. 

Fears of Conflict

But resident Jim Richards has already made up his mind about what will happen when what he calls an "arrogant mob" of cyclists takes control of the parkland. 

The retiree provides a dog walking service for his neighbours, and takes up to ten dogs on weekdays to the park and the reservoir lands to the south. "I think it'll just become a great big mud hole that pretty much nobody else is going to feel that they can use," said Richards. 

Jim Richards is concerned cyclists will cause environmental damage to Carlington Park. (Stu Mills/CBC)
He fears there will be a "huge conflict" between mountain bikers and others who enjoy the green space now, like runners who train on the park's old ski slope, dog walkers, and others who exercise together there.

Ryan Janssens, who walks his dog twice daily in the park, disagrees. "It's a huge hill. I'm sure everyone will get along," he said.

Janssens believes the area needs more recreation opportunities for the families living there. "There's lots of baseballs fields, but that's more of an organized sport. Biking you can go out and do on your own, any time you want."

'Our goal is not to take over the park'

"Our goal is not to take over the park...and prevent other uses. That's the whole point of community consultation," said OMBA's David Marchand-Smith. The bike park has been a part of his imagination for Carlington since he lived and walked his dog in the area.

OMBA first took the idea to the city nearly four years ago. Since then, Marchand-Smith says the group's focus has been on making the design fit in with the central Ottawa location.

"A lot of the bike parks that I've seen elsewhere, I don't find particularly aesthetically pleasing. A lot of them look like a construction site, frankly. For us, landscaping is a major factor. We want this thing to look nice, as well as be fun to ride," he said.

"We really think it's an addition to the park, not something that would take away from it."

Environmental assessment promised

Carlington Community Association president Cameron Ketchum says consultations with residents living near the park continue. (Stu Mills/CBC)
OMBA says the park would be designed and constructed using sustainable, environmentally protective trail building practices to reduce erosion. The Carlington Community Association would bring in a third-party environmental assessment to ensure native species and natural habitats aren't destroyed, according to president Cameron Ketchum.

Ketchum wants to assure residents the decision won't be rushed.. "We're still getting feedback. If we get to a point where we need to take a bit more time — say, over the summer, then, we'll do that."

The results of the survey will guide a formal motion on whether or not to approve the OMBA plan at the community association's annual general meeting on May 25.