ECTA meets with Government

Spurwink Island Path

Gord Follett

Jul 29, 2014

ECTA meets with Government

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

East Coast Trail Association meets with Government:
Biking on East Coast Trail will not be supported, need to protect the trail recognized

For every dark cloud there is a silver lining. It’s been a challenging few weeks for the East Coast Trail Association (ECTA) as we engaged in a very public debate sparked by the news that a commercial mountain biking tour operator had sold mountain biking tours on the East Coast Trail. However, news of mountain biking on the trail mobilized members, municipalities, local hikers, landowners and tourists who have hiked the trail, in a chorus of support to keep the East Coast Trail as it was intended: a safe pedestrian hiking trail along our beautiful coastline. That chorus resulted in letters to government and the media, participation by stakeholders in radio interviews, and support through social media channels for the past two weeks.

In our last communication, the Association committed to keeping you up to date on the outreach we planned to undertake to protect the trail as a valuable community asset designed for hiking. It is the firm position of the Association that mountain biking and pedestrian use of the trail are irreconcilable. The facts are:
hiking and biking on a single-track coastal trail poses serious safety risks for both hikers and bikers;
the trail was designed and built for pedestrian traffic only, it is not a multi-use trail, and the trail bed has not been sufficiently hardened to tolerate bike traffic without considerable damage;
further, ECTA has spent 20 years securing landowner permissions to develop a hiking trail over private land; these permissions were not given for a multi-use trail.
In addition to communicating the Association’s position to members and community stakeholders, ECTA met with government on July 23rd to clarify the position of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation (DTCR) on this critical matter. Representatives of ECTA Randy Murphy, president and Geralyn Christmas, vice-president land and legal, met with Judith Hearn, Deputy Minister DTCR. As you are aware, over the past few weeks there have been mixed messages emanating from government, as well as, the tour operator on the position of government on mountain biking on the East Coast Trail. Our meeting yielded the following clarifications:
DTCR expressed strong support for the East Coast Trail as a pedestrian hiking trail and recognizes the complex nature of trail protection;
DTCR understands and respects the East Coast Trail Association’s position on mountain biking on the trail;
The Department will neither encourage nor support mountain biking tours on the East Coast Trail;
The DTCR position is that the mountain biking community should be encouraged to cycle on trails that expressly allow biking;
The Department committed to improved communication with the East Coast Trail Association;
DTCR will consult with ECTA with respect to appropriate tourism activities to be conducted on the trail; and
DCTR committed to further meetings to explore some form of regulatory or legislative protection for the East Coast Trail.

These commitments are encouraging. The issue of mountain biking on the East Coast Trail has crystallized concerns for the long-term protection and sustainment of the East Coast Trail as a pedestrian hiking trail. We realize, like never before, that our ability to protect the trail from these kinds of intrusions is more fragile than we would like. Therefore, ECTA has also written the Premier and requested an urgent meeting to discuss the pressing need for government to protect the trail. We are asking the government to take the lead to properly protect the trail. The hard reality, however, is we have been seeking provincial support for many years to implement trail protection measures required to effectively preserve and protect the trail, and none have been provided.

As the builder and custodian of 265 kilometres of developed trail, our intention is to take this opportunity to seek more robust measures to help assure the future conservation and protection of the Trail. The ECTA wishes to thank the many members, towns and landowners, for taking the time to publicly voice support for the trail as a pedestrian hiking trail. While to date the tour operator, Sacred Rides, has ignored government and ECTA’s request to cancel the mountain biking tours on the trail, the public outcry and letters and emails to Sacred Rides and the local agent for the operator, Cape Race Cultural Adventures resulted in last minutes changes to the July tour in order to avoid property where biking is not permitted. In addition, information on the operator’s website on other scheduled tours appears to be changing.

The ECTA Board is actively engaged and committed to advancing the matter of long-term trail protection with the government and will continue to keep ECTA membership, municipalities, landowners and supporters of the trail informed on any new developments.