The Semi-Urban Trail
Or is it semi-rural? Whatever you call it, the Otter Point district near Sooke on Vancouver Island is one of the many areas in British Columbia where any notion of backcountry, is fast being swallowed up by development.
For decades, locals have maintained trails through and around private acreages, crown land, forestry lands, and beaches. Increasingly, access to these informal trails is being cut off by residential subdivisions.
In the face of this challenge, equestrians in the area have realized that their best option is to join forces with hikers and cyclists to support the development of multi-use linear parks throughout the region. This is painstaking work that requires both a grand plan for the future and the patience to be satisfied with small gains as they come along. Sometimes it’s worth fighting for a piece as small as 1.4 hectares.
The Secret Park
Local riders all knew that you used to be able to follow a trail at the end of Eaglecrest Drive up to the forestry lands beyond. But blow-downs and washouts had over time made access impossible. Besides, the entrance was crazy-steep.
Half-hearted attempts to get the trail cleared again suddenly became quite focused in 2010 when the land behind it was slated for development. What would happen to the trail? A little research showed that in fact the 1.4 hectare area had been designated as park in an earlier subdivision. Ahah! A toehold to maintain public access. But how to go about it?
Fortunately, help was at hand in the Juan de Fuca Community Trails Society. Since 2005, this group of hikers, cyclists, and riders had been working with local government to identify and document historical trails and public rights-of-way in the region. The Trails Society readily jumped in with advice and contacts, and, as things progressed, manpower and tools.
Friends of Eaglecrest Park Society
Parks and trails in Otter Point come under the governance of the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area Parks and Recreation Commission of the Capital Regional District (JdF Parks). In 2010, JdF Parks was just starting up a stewardship program that would allow residents to participate in the development and maintenance of the community parks that are scattered throughout the area.
Riders and non-riders living near Eaglecrest Drive had previously formed the Friends of Eaglecrest Park Society (FEPS). This society was re-energized and applied to become park stewards. Because local residents showed an interest, Eaglecrest Park was allotted some funding.
Development and Maintenance
Our goal was to create an all-season trail through otherwise undeveloped forest a Natural Area Recreation Park. This JdF Parks designation is important because it means the park won’t ever be cleared for another use, such as a baseball diamond.
Because we became park stewards, FEPS was fully involved when the trail was first cleared by JdF Parks in the summer of 2010. For example, our feedback resulted in the switch-back near the entrance being re-done to make it safer for horses. Since then, we have been responsible for maintenance. We have regular work parties to inspect the condition of the trail and do any tasks required, such as improving drainage or clipping back salal. We provide JdF Parks with quarterly reports that detail the condition of the trail and describe our work. We also comment on trail use, including photos, so that they know that the trail is being used by horses as well as walkers. JdF Parks is very supportive, and provides extra help and materials when required.
It’s only 1.4 hectares. What’s the point?
The point is that the Juan de Fuca Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission has, with community input, developed a vision for the area that involves linking together whatever land they can get to create a network of multi-use trails. Each time we secure a couple of hectares of land for equestrian use, it is another link in the network.
Becoming involved with this project also means we are consulted when new developments come along. For example, FEPS was invited to meet with the developers of the 220 hectares beyond the park to discuss the trail they were offering as an amenity. Now the developers know that a horse-friendly trail would be well-received in any proposal they make.
One Thing Leads to Another
As a direct result of the success of the Eaglecrest project, JdF Parks contacted the Sooke Saddle Club about the possibility of including horse facilities at a new park they were developing in Otter Point, William Simmons Memorial Community Park. The Community Parks program doesn’t have a large budget, and was there any way to get funding? And if so, what facilities would be desired?
With the help of BC Horse Council funding (Recreation and Industry Grant), the Saddle Club ensured that William Simmons Park in Otter Point has trailer parking, a horse and rider rest area, hitch rail, and manure bin. These are convenient for riders, but are also permanent structures that state clearly horses belong here. Road crossings are a major concern for semi-urban trails. So, the Saddle Club ensured that there is a Horse Crossing sign on the road that connects the park to trails through a nearby subdivision. The subdivision trails are also horse friendly, thanks to club input and monitoring.
The Saddle Club regularly inspects and reports on the condition of the trail and facilities. Recently, William Simmons Park was expanded, and the club was contacted again for input on the expansion.
Building the Network
William Simmons, like Eaglecrest, is a small park, only 6.6 hectares, but it is has been identified by the Juan de Fuca Community Trails Society and JdF Parks as the hub of a trail network for the region. The next piece is close to being in place. JdF Parks has a permit from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to develop a 1.6 km trail along an unused right of way that leads from William Simmons to another area with park potential. We can’t wait to see hoof prints on that trail!
Tips for Semi-Urban Trail Development
- Get there first. Park development is often done on a first-come, first-served basis. If trails are being actively used by horses, then horse facilities are more likely to be provided.
- Make maps. Work with local riders to identify current or historical informal trails on public or private land that have the potential for development. Also consider roads–which ones could easily incorporate riding paths?
- Understand the politics. Find out how, when, and where trail-development decisions are made in your area. Find policies you can support, and work from there.
- Create a voice for yourselves. Form a legal society so that you have an official place at the table, when development is being discussed.
- Think multi-use. Hikers, riders, and cyclists have some different needs, but many more common interests. Cooperate and educate so that horses are welcome on your trails.
- Find money. Look for grants and other sources of funding that will help make your projects possible and desirable.
- Geocache. You want your trails to be used. Geocaching is a great incentive to use the trail, and provides evidence of use.