The Regional District of Nanaimo plans to create a funding stream for the purpose of leveraging mountain biking as both economic and cultural driver in the region.
RDN staff presented a report at the Regional Trails and Parks Select Committee meeting, Feb. 2, outlining the plan that will involve mountain biking associations from Nanaimo and Parksville Qualicum Beach. The groups have indicated desire to expand their role in the promotion, development and maintenance of trail networks.
The objective of creating a funding stream is to enhance dialogue on ways to capitalize on mountain biking in the region. It will involve discussions with a myriad of sectors that include user groups, landowners, tourism organizations, municipalities and the regional district.
“There’s some great opportunity here,” said Yann Gagnon, manager of RDN parks. “The area is known and a very popular spot for mountain biking. And that can be observed in many spots in the regional district.”
Trailforks, an online trail database and management system, has recorded ridership in the region rising from 663 riders annually in 2014 to 18,378 per year in 2020. The region offers 10 different riding networks with more than 400 trails of varying terrain.
Tourism Nanaimo has also reported that the region is rapidly becoming one of the most popular spots on the Island for mountain biking.
Two non-profit volunteer groups, the Arrowsmith Cycling Club and the Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club, have been involved in the creation and maintenance of trails in the region. They have been working to stay in par with two mountain bike groups in the Village of Cumberland, which has deemed itself the epicentre for Island riding. But according to the Nanaimo group, the growth in the sport and the increased demand for well-maintained, sanctioned trails is no longer sustainable for a non-profit volunteer organization to manage.
Staff recommended up to $30,000 be incorporated in the draft 2022 regional park operational budget. The committee endorsed the motion that will be presented to the RDN board for approval later this month.
Not all directors are keen on setting up a funding stream limited to just one particular recreational group.
Electoral Area G Director Lehann Wallace and Nanaimo director Ian Thorpe agreed the focus of the plan is too narrow as it only serves the mountain biking groups. They want the plan to be broader to include other possible beneficiaries such as hikers and fly fishers.
“I am a little hesitant about the scope of it and calling it mountain biking because the next group that’s going to come will be the pump track (BMXers) people and how we’re going to manage that,” said Wallace. “I have more questions and answers at this point but to be in support of moving this to perhaps the next level where we could receive recommendations and make decisions on the actual how to achieve this. I don’t think that there’s many that are debating the opportunity but I think as a committee we should be figuring a clear path on how we can maximize that opportunity.”
Nanaimo director Ben Geselbracht said mountain biking has been a mainstay in Cumberland and Squamish. He pointed out the regional district is probably sitting on the most world-class mountain biking spot in North America that is underdeveloped.