Letter: Response to GaLTT letter in June 24 Sounder about mountain bike trails on Provincial lands

Wednesday, July 8 2020

Response to GaLTT letter in June 24 Sounder about mountain bike trails on Provincial lands

I’m Paul MacEwen with Slow Rise Bakery. I moved here with a 4 year old and a 7 week old child.
I feel like my children were raised on Gabriola. 

This island has been my home for 16 years and I hope to stay at least that again. My children, I believe, were shaped by many empowered role models growing up here. Those wonderful people have taken valuable time to invest in not only my children but many others. They have taught my kids to draw, create and move, encouraging them to feel comfort in their own skin. They have led by example. One only has to look at our local Sheila’s (Malcolmson, Rodgers and Norgate) to see role models. You can start on this island and end up in Ottawa, become a airwave celebrity and use that voice to talk opening of depression or take your passion for art and make a sustainable living from it and do a TED talk. That is just a small example of the great role models my children have had. So many others have given so much to enrich their lives here. It can be as simple as saying hello or spending days creating things. They see teachers and doctors working full time and raising families. They see things getting done by hard work and in so many instances by volunteers and donations. They feel encouraged and supported.

As my children grow they are in turn teaching me.

I myself am deeply connected to the trails here on Gabriola. I walk them, forage on them and for a good part ride on them. I am on the trails or beaches everyday. I can start from the Church on south road and ride for 2 hours barely touching pavement and covering all of the 4 main pods of trails. I see a lot of the same faces, although there are days I don’t see anyone. The trails and beaches are a happy place, a place of refuge. Over the years through difficult times and most recently with all the unknowing and anxiety I turn to the trails. My wise therapist encouraged me to talk to the trees, “they are wise and they listen”. 

I like to think of myself as a trail ambassador. I try to stop and say hello and encourage people to explore. I take my chainsaw and trailer in the woods and help keep the pathways clear. 

Over the years I have had the desire to carve new paths in the woods. I have ridden on private lands and felt uncomfortable with my place in the woods. 

Mountain biking, like skateboarding can often be viewed as a nuisance to others. I ride fast and at the edge of control some times. I like trail riding. It provides a way to get out and explore, move, feel free and often exhilarated.

I try to be respectful and responsible. I have invested in good bikes with good brakes. I have literally scared the pee out of someone.

Multi-use trails have some risks. I think it is important to lessen those risks but incidents may happen. One of the retired doctors once said “I would rather be handing out stitches than pills”. 

I think we need to rethink the way we use the trails. Perhaps this is a bigger issue than I am aware of. It could very well be restricted by the Provincial Government, after all there is a sign saying “Private Government Lands”, not even sure what that indicates. This is our back yard and our place to play. The trails shouldn’t just be for comfortable shoes and hiking poles.

There is room for most everyone. I still haven’t figured out how to include motorized vehicles but I am willing to listen.

I would be sailing off those very jumps if I had the courage or more importantly the skill to do so. The individuals who built those jumps need our support not shame and threats of jail. They need encouragement and good mentors. The people building those trails are the children of my friends and neighbours. They aren’t hooligans or law breakers. They are trying to find their place in the woods. 

I am guilty of not doing something. I have seen the trails being built and admit to not reaching out. I as well as others should help our youth find ways to build trails and ramps. I believe it is our responsibility to help find ways for everyone to find their place in the woods. We could encourage those using the jumps to ride in pairs to spot the crossover points to ensure the safety of others. This can be a temporary measure until we either change the way we think and use the trails or find an agreed upon spot. There should be room for all of us. I don’t believe anyone has more right to be there. I believe we should all yield and be respectful and supportive. 

Our youth face challenges. They see inspiration and are supported by the mentors that live next door. I want to encourage our youth to find a safe place to be in the woods.

I would offer a challenge…. I challenge those that align with GaLTT and the views expressed in that message to get on a bike (they have electric ones now so no excuses). Get on a bike and ride around this beautiful island. I suggest you start at the ferry parking lot, wait until the ferry is unloading. Ride up the hill and circle the island on a busy summer’s day. At the end of your ride stop, have a cup of tea and discuss how safe you felt, how comfortable your experience was. Now picture our children and grandchildren or peers riding their bikes to school or work or using the roads for exercise. 

I feel our roads are unsafe. These are the very roads that many use to get to the trail heads in their cars and then condemn others that use them. Our road ways are not supportive of bicycles or walkers and runners. People turn to the woods as a place of safety. We need to work to make it inclusive of all not exclusive to some.

We are very lucky we have Muti-use trails that cover the island. I think we can challenge our views of how the trails are used. 

As I mentioned earlier my/our children or this generation are teaching me so much and I am having uncomfortable conversations. The challenges they present are challenging my fundamental beliefs and understandings. I am now mindful of my pronoun usage and the systemic racist environment I was raised. Look at what our youth is doing with the digital age they grow in. They are speaking out and standing up. 

The best I think I managed was boycotting Carlsberg beer in support of Apartheid in South Africa when I was in my late teens. 

My children are far more aware of Indigenous culture through the education system and their own personal learning. 

To quote Bob Bossin, this is “Our home ON Native Land”. I think it is time to question the rules we place on the land we stole. Let’s work together to make these trails inclusive and a safe haven for all. It is an uncomfortable time for us all so we can have uncomfortable conversations. I will include my phone number at the bottom. I would encourage those from GALT to text me. We could get together and have a conversation. I know we have at least one thing in common. I respect and admire all the hard work and volunteer hours that go into our trails. There is a tremendous amount of work going on now and in the past. This is a beautiful place to call home. It takes work to keep it that way.

With Respect,

~ Paul MacEwen, 250-247-9101