Updated: Opponents express environmental concern over heli-mountain biking tenure application on Revelstoke area trails

Opponents of heli-biking tenure application on Mt. Cartier cite concerns over increased damage to trails, greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on local wildlife.

File photo: A helicopter equipped with mountain bike racks ferries riders to the peak of Mt. Cartier. Photo by Matthew Timmins

This story was first published on Mar. 27 and updated on Mar. 29 to include additional comment, which follows after at the end of the first story.

It seems not everyone is in favour of local mountain bike guiding company Wandering Wheels’ application for a heli-bike tenure on Mt. Cartier and Joss Mountain trails.

Wandering Wheels submitted an application for tenure on the two trails to the Ministry of Lands, Forests, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Developments. The City of Revelstoke then received a referral from the Ministry of Forests to review and provide comment on the application. The city received several letters from the public stating concerns over the proposed application for tenure.

See our previous story on the Wandering Wheels application here

The North Columbia Environmental Society was among those opposed to the application. In a letter to council, the Revelstoke-based environmental group voiced concerns over the potential for increased damage done by the increased number of cyclists to the trail, a lack of consultation with stakeholders, and issues arising from heavy helicopter use in the area such as increased greenhouse gas emissions. The NCES is asking for the city to organize a comprehensive recreation planning session for the Greeley Creek and Mt. Cartier areas that would include local landowners, businesses and the NCES.

“The city has a responsibility to protect our airspace, our local forest habitat, maintain the integrity of this hiking trail, and protect the flora and fauna of this area,” NCES president Jody Lownds said in the letter.

In an email to the Ministry of Forests, Tammy Gillich cites concerns over trail erosion on the Mt. Cartier Trail from overuse. Gillich said that she has noticed an increased difficulty and danger in hiking this trail over the years with more loose rocks being torn up due to mountain bikes sliding around switchbacks.

“Having another company looking to profit from public built hiking trail is not something I can support. Overlapping tenure could equal trail erosion from overuse. Sliding, skidding all cause soil erosion, leaving rocky terrain which is harder and slippery for hiking purposes,” said Gillich.

Wildlife and forest ecologist Dr. Brian Horejsi said in a letter to Revelstoke city council that he was astonished to hear of Wandering Wheels application and referred to it as an application to “essentially privatize the use of public hiking trails on Public land in the Revelstoke area.”

The Wandering Wheels application package presented to council also contained a letter of support from the Revelstoke Cycling Association (RCA). In the letter, RCA president Keith McNab said that Wandering Wheels is well known to the cycling club. “The RCA strongly believes that the products and services offered by Wandering Wheels are valued and in demand in the Revelstoke area and are fundamental in promoting fun, safe, and certified recreational adventure tourism opportunities within British Columbia.”

Council agreed at its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 27 to refer the matter to the environmental committee and the economic development committee. This means the application will be sent to the two committees for feedback, and then the matter will be referred back to council for a decision.

In the end, city council’s role is limited to a referral back to the provincial Ministry of Lands, Forests, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Developments, the agency that will ultimately decide on the tenure application. It’s likely that the ministry has sent the same referral to many regional stakeholders, such as regional governments, First Nations and other stakeholders.

Aviation authorities have only recently approved specialized bicycle racks that attach to helicopters in the past years. Prior to their approval, shuttling mountain bikers to the top of mountains involved putting the bikes into a big mesh bag that dangled from beneath the helicopter. The system was less than ideal because it wasn’t efficient and could damage the expensive bikes. Heli-assisted mountain biking is viewed as a potential growth industry in the Revelstoke, especially for existing heli-skiing tenure holders, who could utilize their existing facilities and operations to offer new summer tours. This application is somewhat different in that it involves a new tenure application and the use of existing trails. The Mt. Cartier trail started out as a hiking trail, but has seen more and more biking activity in recent years as mountain biking has grown in popularity and newer bike technology has enabled riding on rocky hiking trails.

Update: Mar. 29.

Following publication of the original story, Revelstoke Cycling Association Steve Scott contacted the Mountaineer to clarify their position on the tenure application.

He said the Revelstoke Cycling Association is in favour of Wandering Wheels tenure application, but says the bike association isn’t able to specifically provide support or opposition when it comes to the Mt. Cartier trail. Both Mt. Cartier and Joss Mountain trails are included in the tenure application.

“We have zero say because it’s not one of our managed trails,” said Steve Scott, RCA board member, trails planning.

Scott said the RCA is in favour of Wandering Wheels owner Matt Yaki, who is also an RCA board member, getting tenure. Scott said guided mountain bike rides would help ensure the trails are better managed and maintained. For example, a guide would show riders which corners need to be walked in order to avoid soil erosion, which can make it difficult for hikers walking the trail.

“Matt understands the trail needs to be managed,” said Scott.

The RCA also has plans to create a separate trail for mountain bikers this spring to help reduce the number of bikes accessing the current Mt. Cartier Trail.