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qathet Regional Cycling Association plans riding trail network

“We will be a hot-spot for mountain biking in the next two or three years.” ~ Brendan Behan, QRCA director of trails

Cycling on Mt. Mahony in the Inland Lake area is growing rapidly in popularity and an initiative is underway to develop the mountain as a first-rate cycling destination.

Brendan Behan, qathet Regional Cycling Association (QRCA) director of trails, said the BC Bike Race held competition in this area for 10 years put the qathet region on the cycling map. Development of Mt. Mahony will just add to the cycling amenities to be found in the region, he added.

Behan said Mt. Mahony is more of an enduro – downhill style of cycling and “that is exploding.”

Over the May long weekend, there were probably 200 people riding at Mt. Mahony from Squamish, North Vancouver, Vancouver, and up and down Vancouver Island, as well as local riders, according to Behan.

“We need to get in front of it,” said Behan. “We, as a board, recognize we need to get in front of it, so we have been working really closely for a couple of years, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours. We are working with RSTBC (Recreation Sites and Trails British Columbia) and had a meeting with them onsite last week.

“We have also been working with Thichum Forest Products and Tla’amin Nation, and we even have a director of Indigenous relations on our board. We’ve also been working with BC Timber Sales, so we’ve been working with all the partners, including the provincial parks.”

Behan said the association put out a tender and had a trail network plan developed with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and had a project manager and consultant group. A network plan has been developed and submitted for authorization.

“We are moving away from unsanctioned trails, working with all our partners, and we are going to develop this sanctioned, approved network,” said Behan.

He said the cycling association needs to deal with various authorities because part of the trail network is on Tla’amin land through treaty, part of it is on Tla’amin tenure, and a large part of it is crown land. The association has also been working hard to establish a positive relationship with Powell River Community Forest.

“Mt. Mahony is developing at such a rapid pace,” said Behan.

Significant capital investment will be required to realize QRCA’s plans to establish the trail network. Behan said the association initiated a bike raffle, where a bicycle valued at $5,000 is being raffled, with hopes of raising $20,000. He said estimates for trail development will cost somewhere around $2 million. The QRCA has already received $50,000 from Sunshine Coast Tourism for the project.

“We’ve divided the project into phases,” said Behan. “We have a director of fundraising who is targeting grants, but the biggest catch is we can’t go after larger grants without having the sanction approval, which we are very close to receiving. Tla’amin Nation is in full support.”

Cycling destination

Miles Arbour, QRCA’s director of communications and branding, said developing Mt. Mahony is the next step for the town to become a cycling destination.

“I moved here because of cycling,” said Arbour.

The process of developing and expanding the trail system began about two years ago. About a year and a half ago, a committee was formed and has put in innumerable hours to establish Mt. Mahony as a cycling destination.

One of the features of the new development will be a climb trail that will be amenable to cycling, rather than the fire road currently being used.

“It will open it up to so much more of the population that can start to enjoy that downhill experience without feeling like they are taking a big risk,” said Behan. “We are trying to make it more accessible to the average rider.”

Arbour said other important developments include a parking lot, a kiosk and a toilet.

Behan said on the Saturday of the May long weekend, there were 35 or 40 vehicles parked up and down the Inland Lake forest service road because there is no parking lot. Development of a parking lot will improve safety along the road corridor.

When the development is complete, a rider could go four or five hours and not ride on the same trail twice, according to Behan.

“We have already mapped out and GPS-marked the trails that are in existence, with full disclosure to Tla’amin Nation, RSTBC and BC Timber Sales,” he added. “We have also GPSed and flagged the trails we wish to build – the climb trail and these new downhill trails.

“Part of the reason we will need money is we want these trails to be professionally built. In particular, the climb trail will be machine groomed. There is a possibility our club will take on one or two of the trails and build on a volunteer basis, but it’s all up for discussion.”

Singular trail started it all

Even as it is, Mt. Mahony is an exciting ride. Behan said there is a trail called Civil Disobedience that has probably been around for 20 years.

“It’s the singular trail that started this all,” said Behan. “People have known about it quietly and have come to ride it. It is a big trail and goes all the way down the mountain. It’s technical and not for the faint of heart.”

With the new development, there will be options, so riders won’t have to do big, two- or three-hour excursions.

“We will have other lines near the bottom, so there will be lots of different options; the whole point is allowing people to develop their skills and enjoy it.” he added. “It will help cement this as a destination for not only BC riders, but from around the world. We will be a hot-spot for mountain biking in the next two or three years.”

Behan said QRCA believes it will receive approval within the next month or two and with enough initial funding, hopes to put out a request for proposals to begin digging.

“We have an agreement that we won’t develop the trail network until the parking lot and facilities are done,” said Behan. “I hope we can start moving in 2023.”

In terms of the popularity of cycling locally, Arbour said QRCA membership is close to 500 people.

“There are more people riding bikes than ever before,” added Arbour. “We may have COVID-19 to thank for that. Bike sales went through the roof in 2020.

“We’ve also been on social media and have been getting the word out that qathet region is a destination for cycling.”