Letter to the Editor – Revelstoke Cycling Association comments on Sunnyside

By the Revelstoke Cycling Association

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the Revelstoke Cycling Association’s new Sunnyside trail network. We feel many people do not understand the reasoning for the new network, and the work that has gone into it. The goal of this article is to walk through the history, development, and regulations surrounding the development of Sunnyside, and to explain how and why it has come to exist.

The development of recreational facilities on Crown land is heavily regulated. There is a complex web of statutes that determine what can be built and where. Developing trails requires extensive planning, consultation, and cooperation between trail advocacy groups (like the RCA), the government (specifically Recreation Sites and Trails BC), and community groups (such as community members and local First Nations).

Why build more trails?

Revelstoke’s ridership is rapidly increasing. Both locals and tourists are mountain biking, and in comparison to similar communities like Fernie and Rossland, Revelstoke has far fewer kilometres of trails per rider. Many of our trails are limited to a short season because of their elevation or exposure, and they are constantly threatened by logging, making them more difficult to maintain Creating a new trail network alleviates the stresses, maintenance needs, and conflict that crowded trails create.

The RCA was also hearing its ridership (currently over 800 members) ask for an “enduro” style trail network. These are fun and challenging downhill trails accessed by moderate climb trails. Our enduro races are by far the most popular hosted by the RCA.

The Revelstoke Mountain Bike Trail Plan includes an in-depth evaluation of existing networks and discusses the identification of the Sunnyside area as a suitable location for a network to fill the gaps in the local trail assets.

The Approval Process

To construct new trails, someone needs to conceive of an idea and submit a proposal to Rec Sits and Trails BC (RSTBC) by way of Section 57 of the Forest Range and Practices Act. This process requires the proponent submit detailed information about their plans, including GPS data. The District Recreation Officer (DRO) is responsible for evaluating the application. They will look at a number of factors when assessing an application, including recreation needs of the area, identifying any stakeholders or environmental impacts that should be addressed through a referral process before approval is granted, and the feasibility of the project. The DRO can approve or deny an application.

Stakeholders are given an opportunity to comment on applications, similar to what happens for a city development permit. Stakeholders with registered interest in the land are sent a letter explaining the intended development and given a chance to respond.

The Section 57 for Sunnyside

Members of the RCA and its board identified Sunnyside as a prospective area for further trail development several years ago in consultation with RSTBC. There are a number of reasons why Sunnyside was identified as an appealing location, including its southern exposure, previous designation as recreational land within RMR’s controlled recreation area, and its lack of merchantable timber, as our existing trails are threatened by logging.

In 2014, the RCA applied and received a Section 57 approval from RSTBC to build a loop trail in Sunnyside area.; The build was not carried out as further investigation on the ground discovered the path of the proposed trail intersected many wet and rocky areas that would have made the trail unsustainable.. We went back to the drawing board for a better plan and scouted a new route for what we hoped would become the climb trail for Sunnyside, which was currently in its infancy. The RCA received approval to build the re-routed trail in 2017, and construction began in 2018, though not before further consultation and more reroutes, which are discussed below..

The RCA’s second approval was for a descent trail. This was applied for only after board members of the RCA had walked, rerouted, and carefully considered the route the trail would take. It was approved in the spring of 2019, after being with RSTBC for several months. With the final approval were recommendations from stakeholders, including the Ktunaxa First Nation. Construction on the trail began shortly after approval was obtained.

The Scoop on Water Rights

There are both licensed and unlicensed water intakes on Sunnyside. The one licensed water user was given a referral letter as part of the Section 57 approval process for the trail. This resident was already aware of the proposed development prior to the approval process. There are two other unlicensed points of diversion that only became known to RSTBC and the RCA after the application was submitted. One has existed downstream of the historic Mount Cartier Trail since the water use began. However, even before the RCA submitted an application and the formal referral process began, the resident who was licensed quickly alerted the neighbour and they both approached the RCA with their concerns at a town hall meeting the RCA hosted in the spring of 2018.

Understandably, these neighbours were concerned about their water intakes. Immediately after these concerns were raised and the club learned about these other points of diversion, the RCA took the neighbours on several site walks of previously constructed and proposed trails that approached their water sources. Since then, they have had a designate from the board of directors assigned for ongoing communication by phone and email.

After realizing the trail would approach within 20m of neighbourhood water intakes, RSTBC and the RCA consulted with a hydrologist and agreed to reroute the trail a minimum of 100m from the water intakes. The distance was based on regulations in FRPA that state no road construction can take place within 100m of a water source in a community watershed. The trail has since been assessed by a Natural Resources Officer, who determined we were in compliance with this distance.

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about watersheds, water rights, FRPA, and the Water Sustainability Act. We have been asked many questions about our compliance with regulations that don’t apply. From our perspective, it’s essential that the public understand the regulations at play, not so we can hide behind legislation, but because the layers of regulations are complex, and our we take our adherence to the law seriously.

It is important to note the area is not a “Community Watershed,” and the regulations of a Community Watershed do not apply in this case. A Community Watershed is specifically designated under a statute – the Greeley Basin is the Community Watershed for Revelstoke.

Despite this, we felt it was more than reasonable to use this a guideline so people’s water wouldn’t be impacted.

The protection of streams and ground water is not only important for residents; it is also beneficial for mountain biking trail quality since water erosion and runoff destroys the trails. When building trails, FRPA requires that they be built more than 20m from the banks of any stream less than three metres wide. This excludes crossings. which can be built perpendicular to streams as long as the crossing is bridged by an acceptable means to minimize impact to the water flowing below. In Sunnyside’s case, this resulted in wood bridges the width of the trail bed. The trail that has been constructed far exceeds this mandatory minimum distance.

Sunnyside’s Future

For those following along, the new Sunnyside trails remain closed. The RCA and RSTBC is working hard to finish the last few tasks that will allow the recreation site to be safe and sustainable for public use. Recent installations include an outhouse at the parking lot, clearing of dangerous debris at the trailside, and signage throughout the network to direct and inform hikers, runners and bikers using the area.

The final work which is set to take place in early September, will include a professional revegetation plan to reduce the newly built appearance of some sections of trail. We will be planting native vegetation in affected areas, while also letting nature take its course.. The RSTBC and the RCA will be monitoring the need for increased parking and there are plans set for when the existing parking is exceeded. The RCA encourages all riders to warm up their legs on Airport Way and ride to the trails to minimize the traffic at the trailhead.

There are currently no plans to build anymore machine-built trails in the style that was constructed this spring, however the RCA will be spending time laying out plans for hand-built trails that will need to be applied for and approved by RSTBC before they are constructed. If anyone is interested in this process, has input on trails, or would like to be informed of future development, please contact us.

Throughout the build process, the RCA has learned area residents would have appreciated more consultation in the planning and development of this network. We have not experienced this type of interest from the community in past developments, which have simply followed the RSTBC required referral process. Now that we understand this, we will be careful to inform residents of Airport Way of any future tail layouts.

Currently, the historic Cartier pack horse trail to the fire lookout remains as before except for the reroute at the start, which diverts hikers onto a short section of the multi-purpose climb trail. It was not the RCA’s choice to decommission this hiking trail and displace hikers, and we are lobbying RSTBC to open it back up. Once open, we welcome all users to take the new climb trail, Sunnyside Up, to a secondary lookout with incredible views of Mount Begbie. It is important to note the downhill trail, named Haulin’ Daze, is for downhill biking traffic only for safety reasons.

Concerns, Questions, Comments?

We encourage any concerned residents to contact us directly, as we take concerns very seriously. It is the intention of the RCA to maintain a positive relationship with all community members; however, it is important that you reach out and make sure we hear your voice. Please contact us directly knowing that we will work with you for a resolution. We have not heard many concerns directly, which makes them very difficult to address. We have seen many misinformed comments online, which are hard for us to address individually.

Please keep in mind our board is made of dedicated volunteer members of the mountain biking and greater community of Revelstoke. We are passionate mountain bikers and members of this community who dedicate our time and energy to constructing and maintaining trails for all users.

We encourage you to become informed and understand the government regulations that we work within before offering criticism of processes. If you or your community organization think you can help us do better, please get in touch! These developments can only be improved by community groups working together.

For a fully detailed report of this new trail network and the RCA’s involvement, click here

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