ONE STEP AT A TIME
Spring is here and all around us is the rebirth of nature. Like you I am itching to dust off my bike and cruise the back country! Sitting at my desk to write my last “Presidents Ramble” I am hopeful that the Okanagan Trail Riders Association will also have a rebirth of new members and leaders for the coming year and beyond (yes that’s right...I resigned my post as President) I hope those of you who care enough to read this will forgive me if I do some reminiscing of where this organization has come and allow me to share my hopes of where we can go in the future.
In 2002 I had joined my friend Ralph Livingston (co-founder of the infamous “Woodchucks”) on a trip to Beaver Lodge Resort in the Colville National Forest. The designated trails system was incredible and a model that got me so stoked! I couldn’t believe a place like this existed on earth...signed designated single track trails you could ride for days on without running out of new trails to explore. This was all in a National Forest and none of the trails presented any environmental issues. When the trail crossed a creek there was a small bridge. When the trail went up or down steep ground the trail was built sustainably to avoid washout. What a cool model I thought....I wonder why we don’t have this in the Okanagan?
It was the fall of 2004 when the Society called the Okanagan Trail Riders Association was formed with a focus to promote the activity of motorcycle trail & dual sport riding. With the exception of this writer, the other members had all been actively involved as executive of the Kelowna Dirt Bike Club (KDBC) for many years prior. Bruce Saarinen and I shared the helm the first year. Bruce had been on the executive of the KDBC for 20 consecutive years in various capacities including President and had a very successful Off-Road racing background.....for fat guy with several replaced joints it is amazing just how fast Bruce can still ride. I recall thinking that “this guy really deserves a rest considering all of his years of service and giving back to the sport of off-road motorcycling...... the least I could do was step up and take a turn...... do my fair share so to speak”. My first goal as President was to have some signed trails at Bear Creek just like the Colville National Forest. That shouldn’t be so hard...... right????
It was clear to the initial members/Executive of OTRA (Bruce Saarinen, Peter Barnes, Frank Braeuer, Terry Burke, Ron Ernie, Lorne Scott, Wayne Bond, & Bernie Bloomfield) that areas where one could ride a motorcycle in the backcountry were diminishing fast. It has been said that the definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing and for some reason expect a different result. By 2005 we had lost 60% of riding areas in the Okanagan to closure so clearly what we had been doing up to this point was not working so well. Without a unified and strong voice motorized recreation was an easy target and without being more responsible for the past riding practices perhaps we should be.
While with the KDBC, Terry Burke had been designated as the clubs representative at the Land Resource Management Planning (LRMP) table. Actually Terry heard about the LRMP and had the foresight and determination to wedge himself a seat on the committee for Motorized Recreation. For 5 years Terry attended the LRMP meetings along with dozens of other stakeholders including First Nations, Forestry, BC Waterboard Association, Cattlemen’s Association, Mining, Naturalists, Environmentalists’, Trappers, Hunters etc.... Fortunately in the end Terry was successful in having some 35,000 hectares in the Bear Creek area designated as a Motorized Recreation Zone.
It was shortly after taking over the gavel that the newspaper articles started appearing in the front page where the manager of Lakeview Irrigation District (LID) targeted motorized recreation as the primary risk to water quality concerns & calling for the closure of the BEAR CREEK riding area. I remember being struck to the core and very offended by LID and their paid consultant’s campaign claiming that mining, forestry, wildlife and cattle could exist in a watershed with all their impacts but motorized recreation should be excluded. After all if this premise were true what would be the fate of motorized recreation in every other watershed in the Province? To be fair there were unacceptable impacts from poorly placed trails and the lack of management/legislation but closure was not going to be the standard one dimensional solution this time around....This time we made a stand!
Having BEAR CREEK zoned “Motorized Recreation” was an impediment to those who advocated for closure of Bear Creek. While having the zoning was a critical first step, educating riders to be responsible and developing a sustainable trail system was a much larger challenge; this had never been done in British Columbia. We needed a credible architect to plan the trail system and specialized tools to get the job done.....a small bulldozer and excavator to start...this was going to take some serious $$$$$.
Our first job was to deal with the politics of keeping our riding area open. We needed to unite as a group of like minded people and mount a publicity campaign so that decision makers and other stakeholders would take us seriously. OTRA held our first Press Conference in the fall of 2005. We met with Politicians and stakeholders’ one on one and made them all aware we were an organized professional group they could work with. I recall meeting Rick Thorpe the area MLA at the time. Rick was an approachable guy who got things done. More impressive was that Rick had an ability to see through BS and the courage to do what was right for all parties. Rick helped us get our initial funding (35k) to begin working on the water quality issues that needed to be addressed. Darcy Detlor donated much time in creating our OTRA website which was key in growing and educating our membership (now close to 500 paid members). Without the website and all the effort Darcy put in to keep it current we could not have achieved near the results we have.
A preliminary development plan and budget was put together and the project found support from Steve Carr and Doug Krogel of the Integrated Land Management Bureau. Steve and Doug found 275k and put a good deal of trust in OTRA’s integrity to use the funds wisely & appropriately. Rick Thorpe endorsed the decision. The club used the funds to engage Dick Dufourd of Rec Connect as the architect of BC’s first managed trail system. The bulk of the money was used to acquire much of the heavy equipment the club owns today. Dick Dufourd and his wife Joni are still involved and committed to the Bear Creek trail system. They have an intimate knowledge of the ground and the stakeholders/government officials involved. Rec Connect remains a tremendous asset going forward!
I am grateful to Adrian Van Nieuwkerk (my VP for several years) for his enthusiasm and brilliant ideas along the way....OTRA Movie Nights...Riding Clinics but mostly for his friendship and support. Adrian and Bill Hilland were instrumental in organizing VP tours of important decision makers (including Ben Stewart MLA/Mayor Findlater WKC & Jim Edgson CORD) who now have evidenced the benefits of MANAGED motorized recreation for the environment and stakeholders alike. Let me not forget to note the support from all the dealers Valley Moto Sport, Kelowna Yamaha, & especially Larry Nickel @M&M Performance and Al Harvey @Honda Powerhouse who both donated 2 quads to the club!
Thanks to concerns raised by Dr. Paul Hasselback of Interior Health and Mayor Doug Findlater we were fortunate to get the ear of the Minister of Tourism Kevin Krueger and the Liberal Party. Peter Walters, John Hawkings, Doug Krogel, Jim Edgson (CORD), Wade Anderson and John Glaspie all provided much needed leadership and action in seeing BC first Managed Trail System become a reality. A 40 year era void of leadership/legislation on summer motorized recreation has finally come to an end!
Yes it is true.....”The past is not the future”! We now have over 100 km of trails built, signed and mapped. Most of the unsustainable trails have been closed and rehabbed. We finally got our bridge built across Bald Range Creek and a trail constructed to move riders sustainably through this environmentally sensitive valley. Rider safety has been improved. Spark arrestors and silencers are required. We have demonstrated definitively that motorized recreation can be managed and we can work collaboratively with other stakeholders. We have baseline data and scientific monitoring of water quality proving that the BEAR Creek managed trail system has mitigated water contamination concerns. Motorized recreation can co-exist in a watershed provided Rec Connect’s 4 E’s are incorporated...Engineering (building sustainable trails); Education (Teaching rider best practices); Enforcement (dealing with the bad apples); & Evaluation (Monitoring the results and making corrections when necessary).
The job is not finished but much of the heavy lifting is done. We now have a concept plan for the entire 35,000 hectares. Last season we got the Aspen Trail Head & Campsite approved and roughed in and we finished connecting numerous trail loops with various degrees of difficulty. We have a “Tot Lot” where the little ones can learn the basics. Herb Blamire took on ATV and safety training. Peter Woolsey took the lead in keeping the trails maintained and several others helped. Jack Pyck who was always there when I needed him conducted our first GPS training course in Darcy Detlor‘s swanky computer lab. Our La Casa fund raiser got us closer to the goal of having a trail connecting our trail system to the La Casa Resort (only 6km left to build). We implemented a camp host program and yours truly sponsored weekly Wednesday evening “Over the Hump” rides. We took some 45 participants of ATV BC on a tour of the new trails to rave reviews! Bear Creek was featured on “Go Riding” TV series and my friend & motivational speaker Dave Norona donated his time to produce a promotional clip to the song “Midnight Rider” that opened some eyes to just how cool the trails in Bear Creek are!
My hope is others care about seeing this trail system completed and our off-road riding opportunities preserved and enhanced as do I. New members and Executive don’t have to start from scratch. Spark arrestors are now the norm. Funds are in the bank. Tools are bought and paid for with trained operators. Funding for trails will come will come from user fees and elsewhere. Is it your time to step up and take a turn? It has been a great ride and I thank all of you who have made OTRA such a proud society. See you “Over the Hump”!
You’re Past President,
Okanagan Trail Riders Association