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Blair Rifle Range land use dispute settled

It’ll be happy trails once again for people who head into the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s former Blair Rifle Range lands for outdoor recreation.

It’ll be happy trails once again for people who head into the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s former Blair Rifle Range lands for outdoor recreation.

The province and the federal government have reached an agreement to allow “reasonable and responsible recreational use” on the property at users’ own risk, with maintenance of the trails being taken on by the North Shore Mountain Bike Association.

“People are definitely allowed to and encouraged to use the lands for the recreational uses that they were using before,” said Len Catling, CMHC spokesman.

In the fall of 2016, the CMHC put up No Trespassing signs on trailheads around the 644-acre parcel of property north of Mount Seymour Parkway, which it jointly owns with the province, over liability concerns. It prompted a major pushback from trail user groups, including NSMBA, which lobbied for a solution.

The CMHC later back-pedalled on the outright ban, but the property has existed as a regulatory no-man’s land ever since, with no one willing to assume liability for trail maintenance.

The deal should be welcomed by all, said Jenny Beazley, president of NSMBA. “It drastically reduces the risk in terms of having well maintained trails. We stay on top of erosion, on fallen trees and things like that to make the experience for trail users as good as possible,” she said. “And it’s not just bikers. It’s the trail runners, hikers, dog walkers, families – particularly in that area because it’s so close to the residential space.”

The deal has taken more than a year to iron out, including consultations with First Nations and other local land managers, as well as developing specific trail standards that NSMBA must keep to.

“There is a lot of effort and detail that’s gone into this agreement to ensure that it’s robust and will serve residents and users of the CMHC recreational area,” Beazley said.

In 2017, NSMBA volunteers put in almost 8,500 hours of trail maintenance time on recreational lands owned by the District of North Vancouver and Metro Vancouver, with which the group has similar agreements. The group currently numbers 1,800 members. The deal doesn’t include funding, though. NSMBA relies on its membership dues and gaming grants from the province to cover their “trail day” costs, Beazley said.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development will be responsible for overseeing the land to ensure all parties and users are living up to the spirit of the agreement.

The deal does not allow for new trails to be built on the land, which trail activist Elise Roberts welcomed in light of threats to forest ecology and wildlife. But, Roberts added, the process has been skewed in favour of those who recreate on wheels, not feet.

“With vast areas of forest being taken over by mountain bike trails, single-use hiking trails for nature study are shrinking,” she said in an email. “Trails should be safe, accessible and comfortable for all trail users, including the growing population of seniors who enjoy nature study, essential to health, socialization and lifelong learning. … Community engagement is what we strive for and in a democracy. All citizens are owners of public land and should have a say, not just mountain bike groups that are supported by profitable bike corporations.”

In the past, the land has been used for logging, a Depression-era relief camp for unemployed men, a military rifle range, and it was the subject of a legal dispute over redevelopment. The current agreement ends in 2019 with the option to be extended, Catling said.

As for whether CMHC has long-term plans for the land, which is assessed at more than $186 million, Catling said it would be kept recreational “for the foreseeable future.”

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