Public Trails on Private Land

By Lars Hulstein for GaLTT

Gabriola Land and Trails Trust

Wednesday, June 2 2021

One of the great pleasures for Gabriola residents and visitors alike is our island’s extensive network of maintained trails. Whether it’s a walk to the village for coffee or an epic ‘Descanso to Degnen’ hike through coastal Douglas-fir forest types, the well-maintained network of community trails offers something for everyone.

Where do these trails come from? The Gabriola Lands and Trails Trust, founded in 2004 and better known as ‘GaLTT’, is the authorized body responsible for the development and maintenance of trails on public lands on the island. Many years and many volunteer work-parties have led to the extensive trail network we enjoy rambling on today.  

As the trails evolved, it became evident that a key piece of the system was missing…public access over private lands. The solution: the marriage of Trail Licence documents and willing private landholders to provide important neighbourhood connections and alternate public access to parklands and other trails. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Trail Licence programme let’s look at what a licence is all about (and why you might want to sign one).

The first licence was signed with Bill and Diane Cornish in 2011 to provide public access by foot, bicycle, or horse through forested lands between Barrett Road and Rollo Park. Since that time GaLTT has signed an additional 17 trail licences with community-minded island landholders. 

Just recently, two new trail licenses have been signed with the Gabriola Museum (as owner of the McRae Conservation Area) and the owner of the property adjacent to the Agi Hall, making official the linkage trail between North Road and Fell Road by way of the McRae Meadow.

 It is the generosity of these landholders—and all trail licence holders who allow public movement over private land—that continually reminds us of why we call this special place home.

So, what is Trail Licence exactly? A trail licence is a contract between GaLTT and the landholder which permits a trail for public use to be constructed and/or maintained on their property. Trail use is generally restricted to walkers, cyclists, and horseback riders, but each trail can be unique, and agreements are adapted as needed.

How long does the agreement last? A trail licence has a two-year term coupled with an automatic renewal. The licence can be terminated by either party prior to the end of the term.

What happens if the landholder sells the property? In the event a property is sold the trail licence is automatically terminated. A trail licence is not attached to property title so is not binding on a new owner (but GaLTT would very much like to meet the new owner and describe the benefits of the trail system!). GaLTT has had good success re-negotiating trail licences with new landholders.

Does the landowner have to maintain the trail? No. The trail licence clearly states that the landholder bears no responsibility for the trail upkeep (unless they wish to do so); it is GaLTT’s responsibility.

What happens if someone is injured on the licenced trail? With a signed trail licence in place, the landholder has no liability regarding injury or damage sustained by users of the trail.  It is GaLTT’s responsibility to regularly review their insurance to ensure coverage for both users and maintainers of licensed trails across private land.

Who benefits from a trail licence? We all do. Through the generosity of private landholders all Gabriolans and our guests benefit from improved access to the island’s remarkable natural beauty. Each licence agreement furthers GaLTT’s goal of a comprehensive and integrated network of trails on Gabriola Island.

If you are interested in legally formalizing public access over new or existing trails on your property, please contact Lars Hulstein at trails@galtt.ca .