By Jensen, Randy on May 27, 2020.
The City’s proposed Six Mile Coulee trail upgrades are facing some stiff headwinds as local mountain bikers and trail runners say the upgrades will destroy the best riding trail in Lethbridge.
Parks manager Dave Ellis defended the $1.8-million project, which was reaffirmed and greenlit by city council last March, as councillors at Monday’s Committee Issues Committee meeting admitted to getting severe blowback from some members of the public outraged by the trail upgrade proposal.
“We’ve gone through a very extensive public process,” stated Ellis, who confirmed he was receiving the same blowback. “The outcome isn’t always complete consensus. The folks that were opposed to trail development, and want more mountain biking, are opposing this particular project. They feel we are taking something away from them, and wrecking a perfectly good system. The reality is we are building three kilometres of pathway, and not doing anything to the remaining 30 km of pathway that are there.”
The Six Mile Coulee trail stretches from Lethbridge College to the Oldman River, connecting to a network of other trails along the way. The proposed upgrades, which would see limestone shale added and new stairway accesses created to the top of the trail, would ruin the most prized mountain biking pathway in Lethbridge, said John von Heyking, an avid mountain biker who runs the Facebook page the Coulee Mountainbikers of Lethbridge. So the impact is much greater than Ellis stated to council and the media, said von Heyking.
“It’s not just mountain bikers, of course,” he said. “It’s hikers, trail runners and the people who want to keep it in a more less-developed state. And in especially the Six Mile area, that stretch of Six Mile Coulee is really the prime, and most prized of all the trails, really.
“It would be a large portion of the main trail, and one of the most favoured ones as well,” von Heyking added. “For people who are kind of new to mountain biking, Six Mile trail is beloved. It’s not too hard, you don’t have to climb too much, and it’s nice and winding. It’s one of those iconic trails people love. If you were to poll mountain bikers in town and most trail runners as well, they would say Six Mile is the prime time.”
Ellis acknowledged the upgrades “wouldn’t do anything for the mountain bikers,” but would add something for other Lethbridge residents.
“Change is hard, and right now we have got over 100 hectares that is basically being used by trail riders and trail runners,” he stated. “And what this would do is introduce the ability of the general public to access a great area of our river valley which is under-utilized right now.
“Our objective is to increase equitable access into public land, and that’s what we do, and that’s not meant to discourage or reduce one use or another. But it is to provide a balanced use of our park system.”
Von Heyking was skeptical the gains for the public would outweigh the value placed on it by its current users.
“I would want to see the data as to how that would bear out when you put a shale path in,” he said. “You are not really flattening it out are you, if you are putting a shale path in? You have to follow the contours of the land. It would also be a fairly long trail, and the few people that might be attracted to come there it’s hard to say. It would be a pretty substantial hike.”
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips also added her voice to the municipal debate on Monday, speaking with reporters about her concerns prior to the CIC meeting.
“What I have seen in my own office over the last few weeks is a lot of concern about this project,” she stated. “My suggestion to city council is they go back and look at this process and maybe bring some of those user groups who are up in arms about this into the process so they are not on the outside.”
Phillips said from what she was hearing more public consultation was needed on the issue.
“You sometimes have folks who have legitimate concerns who do not feel that process took them into account,” said Phillips. “And then what can happen is decision makers can build another piece of the process in. There are a number of different ways they can make folks who should be part of the process, and who love this area, and want to see the best for it, they should feel the outcome reflects some of their concerns. And right now, it is very clear that they don’t.”
Ellis rejected Phillips claim, saying public consultation started on the project in 2006 with the most recent open house coming in 2019 -over a decade’s worth of consultation.
“There is plenty of other voices that we did listen to,” he responded when asked about Phillips’ comments. “There is naturalists, and people that are concerned with the environment. There is bird watchers. There’s general walkers. There are people who want to ride their bikes, but maybe with a child on the back that aren’t into the risk and the thrills. They also want access into the park, and those are the voices we heard. And the consensus through that community consultation is we need to open up that part of the river valley.”
Von Heyking said middle ground was possible. He suggested like in other jurisdictions the City save its $1.8 million and give some of that back in much smaller yearly grants to local groups who would maintain Six Mile Coulee trail system for them for a fraction of the cost.
“If you create a culture with stakeholders where you are the ones taking care of the trails then you are more likely to police people and identify people who are more likely to break the rules and create trails where maybe they shouldn’t be,” he said.
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