The rail trails in Haliburton County and surrounding areas have seen a greater number of users and an increase of complaints, which has the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders concerned about safety and losing access. They’re reminding motorized users to practice safe operation of their vehicles, which includes giving space and slowing down for non-motorized users. /DARREN LUM Staff

Trail riders encourage courteous, safe use of trails

By Darren Lum

With more users out on the trails during the coronavirus pandemic, there have also been more complaints, which has raised concern for the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders.

Unlike on trails that are designated for specific types of users, some shared routes such as rail trails can cause stress when there are additional interactions between motorized and non-motorized users, said Mark Ayles, director with OFTR and member of the Haliburton Trail Riders.

“When we’re on the rail trail and we’re running from Tory Hill down to Gooderham we may encounter just people walking with their dogs and kids and families, other ATVers, you know, anyone can be on that roadway … basically, it’s the busier areas,” he said. “You’re coming down a road and you see a family with their dog walking, really, you should slow right down to a crawl. One, you’re not making any dust for these people. Two, they know their kids are safe when these motorized vehicles are going by and it’s respectful, right?”

This practice can help to ensure access isn’t taken away by townships, who must address complaints, he said.

“If we get too many complaints of motorized vehicles running too fast when there’s young families, pets and kids on the trail, it’s easy for the township to say, ‘you know what, let’s keep them off our trail.’ So if we don’t respect everyone we could lose it, right?”

The OFTR’s code of conduct includes safe practices for its members, which includes riding sober; riding on existing trails; respecting nature, other users and the work of volunteers; complying with legislation; packing in and packing out; and not trespassing.

“If you’re unsure then don’t go,” he said. “That’s our little motto when we ride dirt bikes. If you think you might be trespassing, then turn around.”
Trails are closed not to deny someone’s enjoyment, but sometimes it’s for safety reasons such as a bridge that’s not passable or a trail that’s washed out.

Other times it’s to ensure that landowners who have land access agreements in place don’t have reason to change their minds, which could close a whole trail network.

Ayles, who is a Wilberforce cottager, recognizes this problem as an off-roader and a snowmobiler in the Paudaush Trail Blazers Snowmobile Club.
“It’s about reminding people we could lose the privilege of riding on some of the trails,” he said. “In our area of Paudash that run up to me [in Wilberforce] we have so many individual landowners that if we lose one we could lose a whole trail, so we’re constantly fighting that battle of litter, and people being disrespectful and stuff like that,” he said.

Knowing how to operate a vehicle is one thing, but it’s not the same as riding in a manner that works for all users on multi-user trails, Ayles said.
“Everyone may think they know how to ride a dirt bike or an ATV, but do you know how to ride it and be respectful of private property and, you know, other people using the trail?” he said.

Numbers are up; last December OFTR had about 3,600 members and as of its last meeting a few weeks ago, it now has 4,600.

Ayles said more riders is great for the economy and the sport. Some riders have come from as far away as Guelph.

“I love to see all these riders out there and I love to see them come into my town. I just want everyone to be respectful and when you’re riding through a 50 [km/h] zone, like the little town of Wilberforce … you should be going 50. You shouldn’t be doing 80 and when you hit the bigger roads you can do more, but it’s common sense again,” he said.

This increase in membership revenue this year has helped with the financing of $25,000 worth of rehabilitation work on the 26-acre area in the OFTR members-only area of Somerville Tract forest in Kinmount.

Another reason to promote safe riding practices and ensure good relations with other users is to allow green plated motorcycles on roadways.

The green plate, which is white with green letters and numerals, designates a motorcycle as an off-road-only machine and allows a user with the proper insurance and driver’s licence access to highways on their way to trails.

“On July 1st, 2020 regulation changes were brought into effect to allow Green Plate Motorcycles access to several provincial roads,” Inside Motorcycles reported. “This was the final piece for the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019 that was passed in December 2019. For many years the OFTR has been working on getting the same permissions as the other off-road vehicles in Ontario.”

Currently, there is access to provincial roads and the next step is to have municipal governments amend bylaws to allow motorcycles with green plates onto municipal roads.

“They’re all voting for it because we all need tourism up north, right? We made such great strides to get our dirt bikes in all these little towns and then if we have these careless riders, we could be going back in time and that’s our big fear,” he said.