Equestrians ask Dufferin to reconsider dedicated trails use

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A change in Dufferin County Forest trail use has caused angst between some members of the equestrian community and mountain bikers, outing behavior contrary to the rules of the forest.

Of the eight delegates to address Dufferin County council Oct. 12, six of them are unhappy with changes to the Forest Recreational Use By-Law and Policy.

The policy affects 13 publicly owned tracts of forested land located throughout Dufferin County, the largest of which is the 1,492-acre Main Tract located north of Mansfield on Airport Road.

After a four-year consultation process, Warden Darren White recognized the issue is contentious but said the county is not at fault if people didn’t provide input because there was proper consultation. It appears the discussion, once focusing on whether or not to allow motorized vehicles, has shifted to opposition to dedicated trail use for horses and bicycles.

Members of the equestrian community, most advocating for all trails to be returned to mulit-use, presented evidence that mountain bikers had been abusing their forest privileges by desecrating the forest floor, disturbing trees and consuming alcohol in public. White said he had decided not to let delegates make power point presentations containing photographic proof but the images were made available to councillors and the public by request.

Carolyn Milne, who is not affiliated with an equestrian association, said some mountain bikers jump stumps, build structures and ride when trails are wet, contrary to the policy. She said speed limits are imposed on horses but not on bikes and there are now more than 40 trail intersections that pose a hazard.

Others voiced concern about the process that was used to create the policy. Sandra Kendall said she has filed a complaint with the ombudsman.

“Let’s try to solve this,” she said. “It can’t be that hard to do multi-use trails.”

Representatives of Ontario Trail Riders Association (OTRA), Ontario Equestrian Federation and the Chesley Saddle Club also spoke in support of multi-use trails. They made the point that it improves horses’ agility to use a variety of trails.

Elaine Wiesner, of OTRA, asked, “Who would have conceived that 100 per cent of the single track trails would not be open to horse?”

On the other side of the argument, mountain biker Johnny Yeaman spoke in support of the forest recreational use policy along with Sue Downing, president of the Ontario Competitive Trail Riding Association.

Hearing rumblings of a possible disruption to a mountain biking event in the Main Tract last Saturday, Downing said she was ashamed of the behavior of those equestrians.

“Trail use is a privilege, not a right,” said Downing.

After the meeting, Yeaman posted a message to fellow mountain bikers: “As there has been some controversy recently about activity in the County Forests we have to ask everyone to understand this change of plans for the weekend and rules to be completely respected… Therefore at this time and moving forward I must ask everyone to refrain from consuming alcohol while on County property and respect this law.”

The warden, at the end of a long list of delegates, warned all forest users to do so responsibly.

“It is the policy in place. If it changes next week or in five years from now, this is the policy in place now and I encourage everyone to follow the rules. I see a lot of people breaking the rules. Everyone is pointing fingers. I have heard a lot about getting along and I have seen no evidence of that,” said White.

“We spent four years putting it in place and we are not likely to go down that rabbit hole again.”

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