Back in June a wall of blue construction fencing appeared in Princess Park. The barrier, which was soon replaced by the now ubiquitous split-rail fence, blocked off one of the most well loved trails in the park.
If you look closely you’ll see that the sign explains that was a “closure of unauthorized trails.” For decades walkers and dogs have used this trail to start or end a nice loop around the perimeter of the park. Now that route was off-limits.
On Twitter the District announced:
The phrase about “resident concerns about ecological impact” seemed somewhat suspect. After years of walking in Princess Park I couldn’t recall any of the local people who frequent it saying anything that seemed to lead to these complaints.
So I filed a Freedom of Information request asking for copies of all correspondence, emails, or other communication from residents of the District of North Vancouver which concerned Princess Park. I asked for correspondence in the years of 2018, 2019, and 2020. A few weeks later (kudos to DNV staff for their help) I received a PDF with just that.
It turns out that the phrase “ecological impact and damage” is only half the story. What emerged from resident complaints was a pretty damning pattern of bad behaviour by some of the less responsible mountain bikers.
Let me be clear: I’m a big fan of our local mountain bike community. I hike the trails that they build, and I’ve even been part of the their trail days, helping to maintain them. I’m a big supporter of the North Shore Mountain Bike Association.(NSMBA) The sad fact is that although most mountain bikers are friendly and responsible, there are a minority that are just two-wheeled jerks.
The fences that have been built in Princess Park are a direct response to the damage that these idiots have caused.
What’s not discussed is how Princess Park came to be overrun by mountain bikes in the first place. Ten years ago they were an occasional thing; now the bike traffic is constant.
The reason is simple: the District invited riders to make Princess Park a dedicated bike route. A few years ago the lovely old “natural” trails that had existed in the park for decades were replaced by big, wide, flat gravel roadways. I’m certain that no-one who walks in the park asked for these, so I have to assume that they were intended to make it easier to cycle though the park and then down to 29th. This route is part of the Lynn Valley Link, and it’s not surprising that cyclists coming home from the trails on Fromme mountain would find it handy.
The signs of trouble emerged a couple of years ago when regular park users began complaining about speeding mountain bikers. You could argue that the two groups - especially with lots of children and dogs - really aren’t compatible.
Instead of backing off and making the park cycle-free the Parks department took another route. They installed signs designating the trails in Princess Park as “shared use.”
This whole problem began in the District of North Vancouver Parks Department. If they had talked to the people who use the park on a daily basis they could have avoided all of these problems. The people, children, and dogs that are in the park every day would have told them that the trails in the park weren’t a good place for heavy mountain bike traffic.
The NSMBA has been battling rogue bikers for years, encouraging everyone to respect the forest and stay on the designated trails. As hard as they try there are always a few people that don’t believe that the rules apply to them. The Parks department could have seen these problems coming and avoided them.
There was no pressing need to make Princess Park a mountain bike super-highway. But there may be a pressing need to find a way to discourage bikers on its trails.
One thing is for sure. Building more fences between park users and nature is not a solution.