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Climate change challenges Tri-Cities' mountain biking community

Extreme weather events are making trails more susceptible to erosion and washouts
Karaleen Gioia, Chris Cook and Christopher Pinske, of the Tri-Cities Off Road Cycling Association, say they've had to adapt their construction and maintenance of local trails to cope with the challenges of climate change.

Extended droughts that dry out trails, atmospheric rivers that wash them away and intense windstorms that blow down trees are among the climate change challenges facing the local mountain biking community.

So members of the Tri-Cities Off Road Cycling Association (TORCA) are adapting the way they build and maintain trails, as well as how they ride them.

Karaleen Gioia, a director of the group that comprises more than 750 members, said a typical trail on Burke Mountain that 10 years ago was little more than a dirt path — snaking through the towering trees — must now be armoured with logs and rocks, bridged with hand-built wooden spans to allow for drainage in heavy rains, and contoured with little rolling hills to slow riders who could otherwise speed erosion.

“It’s not just getting out and shredding the trails anymore,” Gioia said. “Climate change is another factor to consider.”

Drought followed by big rainstorms can be especially damaging to trails.

Gioia said the former strips all the moisture from the ground that binds the trail beds, threatening their structural integrity, while the latter results in washouts as rainfall in unprecedented volumes is forced to travel in unfamiliar places.

Having both in quick succession can be disastrous.

“The result is that more work is required to make trails sustainable,” Gioia said. “More labour up front means less work in the long run.”

Most of that labour is supplied by a corps of dedicated volunteers over the course of several organized “trail days” throughout the year, as well as individual privateer efforts to stay on top of repairs.

“We’re pretty proactive.”

Gioia said most local mountain bikers are tuned into the privileged position they enjoy with so many trails so close to home. Many file trail reports to document any problems or areas of concern they identify as they roll up or down the mountains.

Gioia said keeping the trails in good shape benefits all users, including hikers, dog walkers and trail runners. That’s been especially important since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic that sent more people outdoors for their recreational pursuits as activity helped reduce their stress and kept them healthier.

Gioia said education of proper trail use etiquette and trail building technique is an ongoing process. TORCA liaises frequently with other user groups, as well as land managers, to devise solutions to problems as they arise.

“We’re learning as we go,” she said.

In fact, a report conducted for Parks Canada by the Calgary-based Miistakis Institute that looked at the ecological impacts of mountain biking said that’s the case for most user groups, as there’s been very little empirical research.

“Specific effects associated with mountain biking activity and infrastructure characteristic of the other types of use have emerged as a considerable gap in the research literature,” concluded the review.

Gioia said land managers and user groups are gaining a greater appreciation that bolstering trails will help keep mountain biking viable even as weather extremes intensify.

“It makes it enjoyable for all the users,” she said.

• TORCA is holding its annual raffle to raise money for the construction and maintenance of its trail network as well as supporting a cycling program for Indigenous youth. The prize for the early bird draw that will be awarded Nov. 27 is a Knolly Tyaughton hardtail mountain bike, while a Knolly Chilcotin will go to the winner of the main draw on Dec. 18. For more information, as well as a link to buy tickets online, go to TORCA’s website.