UPDATE: the electronically broadcast council meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. on Monday, June 22 has been rescheduled to Wednesday, June 24 at 6 p.m. due to technical difficulties.
Huntsville Town Council will decide on Monday, June 22 whether it will support a multi-use trail system at Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area (HVHSA). The trail development proposal by the Huntsville Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) will be presented to councillors in a staff report by economic development officer, Scott Ovell.
The four options presented in the report relate to a proposed tri-party agreement between the Town, HVHSA, and the HMBA for the development of multi-use trails at Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area, which would be free of charge and open to the public .
The staff report recommends that council not support the proposal.
Buck Miller, president of the Huntsville Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) said that the proposed trail system would include “roughly eight kilometres of beginner and intermediate trails, all built to the high safety standards of the IMBA [International Mountain Biking Association]. There would be no fees to residents, the public, or visitors. No membership with HMBA or Hidden Valley would be required. If council votes in favour, the HMBA feels we can get the trails ready by the end of July 2020.”
According to the staff report, the HMBA approached the Town’s Economic Development Committee in May 2018, indicating their desire to expand the trail systems in Huntsville to encourage participation in the sport of mountain biking. Council subsequently passed a motion directing staff to work with the HMBA to look at possible available lands. However, they were unsuccessful in their efforts to find suitable public or private land spaces.
Then, in late fall 2019, Miller met with Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area general manager Andrew Rusynyk to propose a multi-use trail system on the Hidden Valley property behind the red and green chairlifts. Rusynyk was in favour, but wanted to enter into an agreement in which the Town leases the land so that the multi-use trails could be open and accessible to the public, with the accompanying appropriate insurance coverage.
“We’re not re-inventing the wheel on this,” said Kristi MacDonald of The Bike Shop in Huntsville. “Many other towns have exactly this type of relationship agreement to create multi-use trail systems, including Bracebridge, Durham County, Simcoe, and many others.”
Indeed, the Huntsville staff report outlines the similar model of tri-partnership that the Town of Bracebridge has successfully developed with the Muskoka Off-Road Cycling Association (MORCA) and a private landowner, called Porcupine Ridge. The Town of Bracebridge leases the Porcupine Ridge land for one dollar annually, and MORCA develops and maintains the trail system, with the agreement that trails are open to the public at no charge. According to the staff report, MORCA carries the necessary insurance coverage recommended by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) for the trail system, which is for mountain biking only. A MORCA representative told Doppler via email that “all three parties carry insurance policies, which are dictated by, and detailed in the legal agreement.”
HMBA already maintains trails at Echo Valley Nature and Bike Trails, located about three kilometres east of Dwight, just off Highway 60. The Township of Lake of Bays owns that multi-use property and its insurance covers all non-motorized trail use, said Miller.
After reviewing the Town of Bracebridge agreements, the board of directors for the Muskoka Ski Club, which owns Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area, ultimately supported entering into a similar tri-partnership with the Town and the HMBA, subject to solicitor’s review by each party.
“We’re in support of offering up our property,” said Rusynyk. “It would be nice to get council support. It’s really a win-win situation for everybody. We would have multi-use trails to offer to our membership. HMBA would build and maintain the trails, and their members could play on them. And the Town would have an attraction park to promote under their control to offer to tourists and residents.”
“Having this green space will open up economic and physical development,” said Miller. “The idea is to get multi-use mountain bike trails added to the already existing system, so that people could ride their bikes from town, along the Fairy Vista trail, and then to the Hidden Valley trails, instead of having to drive somewhere with their bikes. It’s important to connect the trail systems.”
The Town of Huntsville’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan states a goal of “Promotion of healthy active living in Huntsville and providing the programs and opportunities for recreation for all” with the objective to “Create partnerships with community groups & develop/implement plan.”
There were positive aspects for the community indicated in the Town’s report of the proposal: “If the Town choose to participate in this partnership it would provide public access to Mountain Biking Trails creating a new opportunity for residents to participate in an outdoor activity, maintain social distancing, stay active, and improve mental and physical health.”
So why does the report from Town staff recommend council not move forward with this proposal?
In the report, staff is not only recommending the Town not proceed with any of the tri-partnership options to develop accessible multi-use trails to the public but, even further, that council should not direct staff to look at alternative options to develop mountain bike trails in Huntsville.
“It disheartens us that the staff is not supportive of this. They have not only recommended that the council not proceed with the options, but stated the Town shouldn’t proceed with any mountain biking option,” said Miller. “That stance shows no room for growth in the mountain biking community.”
He added that “The Town of Huntsville markets itself as an outdoor experience playground, yet there are no public single-track mountain biking trails anywhere in Huntsville. What does that say to our three bike stores in town and the residents who buy their mountain bikes here? That they should buy bikes here so that they can drive to Bracebridge with them?”
The staff report notes that the Town’s insurance agent outlined a recent case in Bruce County where the county was found 100 per cent liable for an injury that took place on “recreational mountain bike trails”, and suggested this has changed the risk management and insurance landscape pertaining to mountain biking where municipalities are involved.
The insurance agent may be referring to a case, described on the IMBA website, of an unfortunate incident at the Bruce Peninsula Mountain Bike Adventure Park in Wiarton in 2008. This was not on “recreational trails”, but rather in a “trials” bike park skills section—like an obstacle course—where the rider attempted a 26-inch teeter-totter technical feature and suffered serious injuries.
This is not the type of trail that is being proposed by the HMBA or Hidden Valley, said Miller.
“The trails would be multi-use trails for all. The HMBA wants other users of the green space—birders, hikers, runners, and walkers. When you share the trail, it’s a safer trail system for all,” he said. “HMBA will build the trails, create signage for them, rate their difficulty level, and continue to maintain them. There won’t be downhill riding, and no purpose-built jumps, only what is naturally there. There will be ride-around options on any natural topography for an easy route, providing an A and a B line.”
The wording in the Town staff report alternates between “recreational trail system/development” and “mountain bike trails”, but only uses the phrase “mountain bike trails” in the Options section where the four recommendations to council are made. Those options are:
- Option #1 – Council could choose to not enter into agreements with Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area and the Huntsville Mountain Bike Association for the purposes of developing and maintain publicly accessible mountain bike trails in Huntsville. (Recommended)
- Option #2 – Council could direct staff to finalize the agreement, have the agreement reviewed by legal and the Town’s Insurer to determine if the risk can be fully transferred/covered and report back to Council (not recommended)
- Option #3 – Council could choose to enter into agreements with Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area and the Huntsville Mountain Bike Association for the purposes of developing and maintain publicly accessible mountain bike trails in Huntsville, subject to legal review of agreement. (Not Recommended)
- Option #4 – Council could direct staff to look at alternative options to develop Mountain Bike trails in Huntsville (Not Recommended)
“There are multiple points of view to consider, not just the legal aspects. There are benefits to the community, for tourism, and for the physical well being of residents,” said Rusynyk. “We need to have playgrounds. We need to have recreation. This is one of the things that has become much more apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
MacDonald remains hopeful. “Huntsville is trying to be a recreation destination location. I’ve spoken with several town councillors who support the idea to move ahead with this proposal.”
The Bike Shop showed their support for the proposal in a Facebook post on June 12, which was shared multiple times: “Huntsville Mountain Bike Association is working hard to build multi use trails in Huntsville. All will benefit. Better for the residence [sic]to have a place to exercise. Better for business, as people [who]are drawn to the trails look for a place to sleep or eat. Better for our community when people look for where they want to live. Support them by reaching out to your town counsellors [sic]. Let them know you want to see trails in Huntsville.”
Town Council will vote on the proposal at its council meeting on Monday, June 22, being held electronically starting at 5:00 p.m.
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