Hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers are being told to stay off some of their favourite Seymour area trails by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
After decades of tacitly allowing unfettered access, CMHC staff posted signs at the trailheads around the former Blair Rifle Range last week, warning: “Unauthorized access for recreational or any other activities is strictly prohibited. The owner is not responsible for damage or loss of property or injury.”
The southern end of the property fronts Mount Seymour Parkway but it extends 644 acres north and encompasses hundreds of kilometres of trails, including the North Shore-spanning Baden Powell Trail. The otherwise vacant land has been jointly owned by CMHC and the province since 1968.
The North Shore Mountain Bike Association and District of North Vancouver Coun. Mathew Bond, who is also past president of the NSMBA, have been lobbying CMHC for an explanation.
CMHC issued a statement Thursday afternoon.
“The land neighbours parks that are popular with nature and outdoor recreation activity enthusiasts. However, the land is not a park or a recreation area,” it stated. “At its core, this is a safety issue. In our continuing role as co-owner and manager of the land, and in the interest of advising the community, these signs were installed as an immediate measure.”
The sudden reiteration of a decades-old, unenforced policy is causing a lot of concern for trail users of all kinds and for local businesses, Bond said.
“I think it’s important that whoever is in charge at CMHC realizes the importance that these trails have for our community. Outdoor recreation is part of the North Shore identity. It’s part of our lifestyle. It’s who we are. It’s why a lot of people live here. It’s the reason a lot of our businesses choose to locate and stay here,” he said, referring to outdoor gear and apparel manufacturers and retailers. “You can probably name dozens of businesses that operate here, hundreds of employees, millions of dollars in economic activity.”
Mountain bikers are mourning the loss.
“People are unhappy but that’s the current situation – a general anxiety over losing a trail network,” said Rachid Nayel, vice-president of the NSMBA. “From the volume of emails that we’ve received, I would imagine they’re fairly popular.”
In the meantime, the NSMBA is urging its members to not ride or build trails on the land.
“We’re advising people to respect the signage,” Nayel said, although he added it will be up to individuals to comply.
Neighbours around Seymour Heights, Blueridge, Parkgate and Windsor Park are also not pleased, said nearby resident Kevin Grayston.
“I just think that overall the North Shore trails and mountains are a great resource and we want to encourage people to be out there and getting fit and taking advantage of the great outdoors. This puts a bit of a crimp in it,” he said.
CMHC staff met with District of North Vancouver staff in June and toured the site but the sudden closures caught the district off guard, Bond said.
The district actively manages its land and trails to mitigate risk and liability, he added, something he hopes CMHC will be open to as well.
CMHC’s statement doesn’t address what will happen over the long term with the land, which was last assessed at $57 million, but the Crown corporation is pledging to consult locally.
“CMHC recognizes the concerns raised as a result of this updated signage. Currently, steps are being taken to engage with interested parties, including the province and the local municipality, with a view to considering options for future use and ensuring a co-ordinated approach to managing and monitoring the use of the property,” it read.
CMHC’s official mandate is “to promote housing affordability and choice, to facilitate access to, and competition and efficiency in the provision of housing finance, to protect the availability of adequate funding for housing at low cost, and generally contribute to the well-being of the housing sector in the national economy.”
The province did not respond to a request for comment.