County defers recreational use of Forest policy to next council

October 15, 2014   ·   0 Comments

The public and off-road vehicle users will have to wait until the new term of council to see if motorized vehicles will be allowed to use the County Forest.

At a meeting last Thursday, Dufferin County Council passed a motion that the development of the Recreational Use of the County Forest Policy be deferred until the new term of County Council. At that time, an ad hoc committee of County Council, including representation from affected municipalities, will be formed to make a recommendation regarding the Recreational Use of the County Forest Policy to County Council. The policy includes a proposal which would permit motorized vehicles to use the Dufferin County Forest. Currently snowmobiles and maintenance vehicles are the only vehicles permitted.

Mono resident Colleen Mitchell, an avid passive user of the Mono tract of the County Forest, came before council with a delegation urging council not to allow off-road motorized vehicles in the forest.

“Any change in recreations policy will not only affect users of the forest but all residents of Dufferin County,” said Ms. Mitchell. “Recreational vehicles, other than snowmobiles, do not belong in our forest.”

She suggested that an ecological assessment be undertaken to assess the species at risk, contending the vehicles will cause a lot of noise and diminish quiet users’ enjoyment of the site.

“These noises may be part of life in the GTA but they are not part of life in Dufferin County,” said Ms. Mitchell. “When are noise assessments going to be done and who is going to pay for them.”

Jorge Bernhard, also a Mono resident, told Council that off road motor vehicles are a potential hazard to other uses of the trails as they emit harmful pollutants, are noisy and disruptive to nature.

“Our forests are precious resources,” said Mr. Bernhard. “We need to protect these assets and manage them with the passion and interest that the Dufferin County Plan suggests so that we can enjoy them now and for future generations. Off-road vehicles may provide pleasure to the riders but no advantage to the forest.”

Brian Knechtel, representing the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders said the bikes being used are not as noisy as motocross bikes and that all bikes tested for noise levels are 90 decibels or under.

“I personally sound tested over 1,000 bikes over the years and I can tell you 94 (decibels) is our max,” he said, adding sound levels and emissions would have minimal impact on the trails. “Most of the bikes that we test are under 90 (decibels)… Modern bikes have made a lot of advances in noise levels and emissions as have cars and other vehicles.”

He explained that liability insurance of $5 million is provided by the association which is the most insurance coverage by users of the forest.

He said there is a misconception and that he wanted to provide the facts.

“We simply found the claims that were supporting the motion don’t have a lot of place in reality when you actually look at the facts and logic,” said Mr. Knechtel. “Our experience just doesn’t support the claims being made… We would like to see a healthy, productive solution that supports everybody. We believe there is room for everyone in the forest.”

He asked Council to vote against barring motorized vehicles in the County Forest.

During the public question period, Karen Rosenthal stated that the County must choose between passive recreational uses of the County Forest or risk losing Niagara Escarpment Commission status.

“Motorized vehicles are best suited to areas where there are no conflicts of use,” she said.

Margo Young expressed her concern regarding riding a horse in the County Forest. “What kind of advance notice am I going to have to keep my horse under control?” she said. “I could fall off and kill myself. These are two opposing forms of transportation.”

Dave Millier, President of the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders, said unauthorized riders are already using the trails and asked Council how they propose to police the forest.

“Are you aware that people are already riding in the forest that are not supposed to be there,” he asked. “How do you plan to deal with that?”

When a motion was tabled to defer the motion that Council not permit the use of motorized vehicles in the Dufferin County Forest, Rhonda Campbell Moon, Deputy Mayor of Mulmur, urged council to make a decision on the matter one way or another. “I think it is appropriate of this council to stand up and make a decision.”

Grand Valley Mayor John Oosterhof suggested all the facts are needed before council makes a decision on recreational uses.

“We need to defer the recreation part of it because there are questions that need to be answered before we deal with that directly,” he said, adding the decision was being made on political issues rather than scientific facts. “I am really hoping this council will see the wisdom to defer the recreational issues and not deal with it tonight.”

The motion to defer the matter to the next term of council carried.

The current policy will remain in effect, allowing snowmobiles and maintenance vehicles to use the forest, until a decision is reached on other motorized vehicles.

A report containing the minutes of the Museum Board was also considered. A motion to defer an item of the Museum Board meeting pertaining to the Dufferin County Forest Management Plan 2015-2035 and Recreation Use of the County Forest Policy, was also deferred to the next Council.

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