Segregation in Dufferin Forest

October 6, 2017   ·   0 Comments

Hundreds of recreational horseback riders who have been enjoying the single track trails in the Dufferin Forest Main Tract near Mansfield for over four decades are furious with a decision by County Council. The horses have been pushed off ALL the single trails by a small group of 30-plus racing mountain bikers who have been very manipulative, lobbying for this exclusive use.   Appallingly, Forest management has allotted ALL these prime single tracks to this user group. Now cyclists are bragging they have been able to influence land managers because they did. Staff and Council have been under the misconception that this user group is a good steward for the forest. Take a walk and see what you think?

The process did include surveys and open houses for input but did not reach the true horseback trail riders from all over the province. The Recreational Use Forest Plan was finalized with only mountain bikers and a competitive horse event group with permission to use the forest 3-4 times a year for races in consultation. This event organizer does not represent recreational riders but instead supported the cyclists as neither had desire for the trails the other wanted. How convenient. The cyclists compliment the competitive horse event managers for their cooperation and help them maintain their logging road trails. Is this collusion to create a mutually beneficial race training facility?

Council had passed the new Recreation Plan May 17, 2017. Separate trail systems were in the plan. What was not yet decided was which trails would be affected.  This situation came to light this spring when 70 NO HORSE signs starting appearing all over the forest without any County bylaw number. So, on June 27, 2017, four well supported delegations, including the Ontario Trails Council and the Ontario Equestrian Federation, were heard at a Committee meeting voicing their objection to trail separation at all and asking the bylaw that would  enforce the Plan be withheld. The Committee now understood trail riders’ voices had not been heard. Councillor Earl Hawkins stated that user groups, under Forest Management, have a discussion and come back with a more equitable goal/plan for shared use either before the next Council meeting or the Council vote would be deferred on this issue until such time as this meeting could occur.  On August 23, 2017, Manager Darrell Keenie emailed with an offer of a September 18, 2017 meeting, conveniently 4 days after the bylaw was voted in.  Four handpicked individuals only were invited to this meeting.  The horseback trail riders came into this meeting to be presented with the passed bylaw and the map giving cyclists and hikers exclusive use of ALL of the single track trail system previously shared by all.  Horses were now confined to double wide logging roads that are overused, dusty, hot and buggy with little appeal for forest users .

Meanwhile the mountain bike group seem to have the blessing of staff to maintain and create new trails yearly. They use leaf blowers to clear away buildup exposing the root systems they apparently see as a positive (increase difficulty of the track).  Their trails are littered with old and new obstacles, ramps, jumps, mounds, all built for their user experience, against County bylaws, without apparent written permission even though  the Recreational Use Plan no longer allows the picking of  a mushroom or a berry.

No reason has been given why Council reneged on their offer to have the voice of all included and have the meeting they offered. Council wasted so many hours of so many people and businesses involved.

Perhaps, when election of new council members comes around, people will remember reading this account of how land managers and councillors can be influenced!

Carolyn Milne


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