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Trail Riders address concerns over access to county forests

August 6, 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Tabitha Wells – The Ontario Federation of Trail Riders (OFTR), the group behind a proposal to allow motorized vehicles in Dufferin County Forests, wants residents to know that they are as concerned as current users are about protecting the land and its use.

“We have a lot of experience with this, and we’ve worked on this stuff for so long that we’ve developed an incredible base of knowledge and understanding of what the other user groups want and need,” explained Brian Knechtel, a board member of the OFTR. “We sit on user group committees on all the other forests, so we work hand in hand with all the other users. We know what their needs and wants are.”

The application, made earlier this year, would be to allow only riders of the OFTR to utilize the trails for riding and for events.

“Riders have to be registered members with the OFTR, and must be able to present valid insurance and registration for their vehicles,” added Mr. Knechtel.

In order to help prevent non-members from utilizing the trails, the group would pay what they could afford for added police presence, and members would be able to ask them to leave the forests or face police involvement.

He added that unfortunately, it would be impossible to monitor forests at all times, as they are not present in the trails 24/7, but they do the best that they can to ensure the trails are not being abused.

“The local club has people in there as often as they can, using the trails and monitoring them as well,” he said. “We do as much as we can, but we have to work too. We’re just ask if they’re a member who has their pass, membership and insurance. We can’t legally arrest them or do anything, but we can ask them to leave or we can refer them to the police.”

Concerns have been presented since then by both current trail users and residents of the area, who are worried not only about protecting the land, but the dangers it would present to the current users as well.

And while some residents have provided research that shows the negative effects allowing motorized vehicles had on many U.S. forests, Mr. Knechtel said that using those statistics is like comparing apples to oranges, and the reports have been blown out of proportion.

“The forests there are very different than our forests here,” he said. “We’ve been in Simcoe forests, among others, for a very long time. Their terrain, conditions, trees and other factors are as close as you can get to Dufferin forests, and we haven’t seen any of this supposed damage there.”

He added that damage from legal, responsibly used off-road motorcycles is not really a serious concern, largely because of the conditions of the forests to begin with.

“That idea would seem crazy, but let’s put it in perspective here,” he said. “These forests are actively logged. They’re forest farms and they are recovered forests. They’re not original, old-growth, natural forests. These are forests that originally, in the 1800s, were torn down, and when it wasn’t able to be successfully used as farmland were replanted. Now the county owns the land.”

Mr. Knechtel also said that there have not been any studies showing that motorbikes alone can cause significant damage. One motorbike only has the equivalent weight of less than two grown, adult males riding mountain bikes.

“It literally, physically, cannot do the damage that people are claiming can happen; it’s not humanly possible,” he said. “People often make the mistake of lumping us into studies with trucks and ATVs, and that’s not right because our vehicles are not the same and cannot do the same damage.”

The trails the OFTP uses are designed specifically to have as minimal an impact on the forests as possible, and the trails specifically in Dufferin County forests were originally made by the OFTP. They trails wind, and go up and down, helping to make it necessary to go slower speeds.

Members of the OFTP have sets of rules and guidelines they are supposed to follow as well, which are listed on their website and talked about often. While some members of the community have brought up fears that members may not abide by those rules, Mr. Knechtel said that they trust their members to follow all the rules and guidelines.

As far as enforcing them and ensuring all members are following everything set out by the federation, he said that it’s impossible, but so is monitoring anything else 100 percent in forests.

“How do you make sure anything doesn’t happen in that forest?” he asked. “Right now I can take you into numerous spots in Dufferin County where people are doing illegal dumping, where people are harvesting trees illegally and people are in there partying where they’re not supposed to be. There is so much stuff that goes on in the forest, so to sit there and point at our one group is ridiculous.”

He said that the group has been utilizing trails in several different forests, including Larose Forest near Ottawa, Somerville Forest near Kinmount, Northumberland Forest near Cobourg and Ganaraska Forest, for over 20 years without encountering the kinds of problems people have raised concerns about.

“We’re not here to work against other user groups,” he said. “We’re here to work with them to ensure the best experience for everyone. That’s the message we want to get out there.”

         


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