Thunder Bay

Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club hopes public support will grow to match rising trail usage

A non-profit organization that looks after a well-used trail system in Thunder Bay, Ont. says it is facing an unusual challenge this season.

The Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club relies on volunteers to maintain trails, with the help of donations & fees

The Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club relies on volunteers to help build and maintain its trails. While volunteers are eager to help, a decline in membership fees, as well as restrictions on gatherings, are two obstacles the club is facing this year. (Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club/Facebook)

A non-profit organization that looks after a well-used trail system in Thunder Bay, Ont. says it is facing an unusual challenge this season.

The Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club says it's noticed a big increase in trail usage this year, as more people embrace the outdoors in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, club membership numbers (along with the accompanying membership fees that help with costs of trail maintenance) are significantly down.

Traffic on trails estimated to be three times higher than normal

"We're about a third of our membership that we usually have," said Michael McKenzie, vice-president of the club and trail development chair, noting that in a normal year they might have up to 350 members, but this year the number is closer to 120.

The club is responsible for 22 kilometres of trail known as the Trowbridge Forest system, which includes trails in Shuniah Mines, Centennial Park and Trowbridge Falls. While club members make use of the trail system for cycling, members of the general public are also frequent users, especially this season.

Traffic on the trail is estimated to be about three times higher than normal, he said. 

"It's packed. Early spring you'd normally see maybe one or two cars parked at Kinsman," he said, referring to the Kinsman Park trail access point. "But nowadays, even at the beginning of spring you have a lot as full as [in] the middle of summer on a nice day."

McKenzie said higher usage can be explained by people having more free time, and fewer activity options during the pandemic. He also attributes this year's dip in membership to the pandemic, as restrictions mean that the club is unable to host its usual cycling events. 

The Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club has steadily grown its network of trails with the help of volunteers. (Michael McKenzie)

Club hopes for growth in public support, memberships

However, McKenzie said they hope people will realize that membership is about more than events. The club is also trying to raise public awareness of its different membership levels, including one geared at non-cyclists, who use the trails for other purposes.

It's hoping that more people might consider its "Trail Supporter" membership, which costs $30/year. Revenues go straight to trail maintenance, McKenzie explained. 

While membership fees are not the club's only revenue source, they do help to pay for things such as tools and equipment used to keep trails in good shape. The club's single-track trail was built and is maintained by volunteers, "and membership and donations to the club help maintain those trails for everyone from bikers to hikers to runners."

The club suffered an additional financial blow this year due to the cancellation of its major fundraising event, usually held in the spring, McKenzie said.

In response to the increased trail traffic – including new cyclists – the club is also trying to get a few other messages out to the public, he noted. It's encouraging riders to remember to wear helmets, and is also urging everyone to share the trail, and be courteous to each other. 

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