The Capitol Region Equestrians (CRE), a group formed to advocate for continued equestrian use of the rural sections of the Lochside Trail in the Hunt and Blenkinsop Valleys, have quietly scored a significant victory for all trail riders in the Victoria area.

The Capitol Regional District was considering paving the popular 29 kilometre, former railway corridor.

Getting It Right the First Time

The first step in advocacy is commitment to the cause, the second is organization.  A little history, from the CRE Facebook page:

“The Lochside Trail has been designated as a multi-use trail, shared by walkers, cyclists and equestrians, ever since its management was transferred from municipalities to CRD in 2001. In September 2015, the CRD released a Draft Trails Management Plan for the entire region, in which the Lochside Trail was re-designated as a Bike-Pedestrian trail, with the rural sections in the Blenkinsop and Hunt-Martindale valleys slated for paving and termination of equestrian use within the next decade. Luckily, a sharp-eyed horseman noticed the Lochside map at a CRD open house on January 16, 2016, and alerted the community. Online and paper petitions rapidly emerged, many equestrians and other concerned citizens filled out the online survey, media coverage followed, and by February 18th the CRD Parks Committee had instructed staff to “investigate options for continued equestrian use on the section of the Lochside Trail between the Blenkinsop Greenway and Island View Beach Road and report back on those options in the fall as part of the process to update the management plan for the regional trails system” (CRD website).
Since that decision, CRE representatives have met twice with CRD parks staff to identify and evaluate models for continued equestrian access to the trail. Three options have been proposed.

1) Maintain the present multiuse gravel surface whilst addressing the issues of winter mud and summer dust that annoy some cyclists;

2) Pave the existing 3 metre right-of-way but widen the trail by 2 metres to provide gravel surface for equestrians, runners and others who prefer it;

3) Pave the existing trail and create a separate gravel trail within the right-of-way.

CRE position is that Option 1 – KEEP THE LOCHSIDE MULTI-USE – is the only viable alternative. The rural sections of the Lochside Trail pass through forests, wetlands near Blenkinsop Lake and along the tributary of Noble Creek in the Hunt Valley; and through upland meadow/forest between Lohbrunner Road and Royal Oak Drive. Significant widening or creation of a second trail would compromise these ecological values, in addition to the introduction of a paved, impermeable surface within the wetland areas. As an unidentified dog-walker recently said, “This is a nature trail. Don’t pave it!” Paving is also a very costly operation, over $500,000 per kilometre, with 4 kilometres of the Lochside presently in gravel.

Within the next two months, CRD staff will evaluate and summarize the public feedback received so far. This information will be used to determine necessary modifications to the plan, which will be presented as a Final Draft for approval of the CRD Board in the fall.”

Securing A Voice

Using petitions, social media and other communication tools, the CRE and other stakeholders had successfully raised awareness of the issue at hand. Another important step in advocacy work is securing a voice at the planning table. CRE requested and was granted a place on the list of stakeholder groups by the CRD, which ensured that equestrians will be consulted on future changes to planning for parks and trails within the Regional District.

More from the CRE Facebook page:

“The CRD’s revised “Regional Trails Management Plan” was presented to the Regional Parks Committee by CRD staff on Wednesday October 15. JoAnne Nelson and (Chair) Liz Ashton made a presentation to the Committee on behalf of Capital Region Equestrians.

JoAnne thanked the CRD Regional Parks Committee and CRD staff for accommodating equestrian needs on the Lochside Trail, and also for preserving the special rural ambience of the trail that is valued by so many walkers, cyclists, dog walkers and joggers. The final draft of the Regional Trails Management Plan emphasises the role of trails as greenways, which conserve natural values, environments and species. The Lochside passes a lake (thus its name) rich in aquatic birds, a Garry Oak meadow full of fawn lilies, and travels through a wetland adjacent to a tributary of Noble Creek. Keeping this precious, small pocket wilderness intact is important. JoAnne also made the point that, for the many horses that live in the Blenkinsop and Hunt valley, this is the only trail they can access. There is no other. If it were paved and horses banned, they would be confined to riding in circles in small arenas.

Liz provided the Committee with our statistics on the number of equestrians (2240 Horse Council BC members) and horses (7000-10,000) in the CRD and the economic impact of the horse industry within the District ($74 million annually).

The Parks Committee recommended that the Plan be approved at the next CRD Board Meeting on November 9th . CRE is very satisfied with the revised plan and we don’t foresee any reversal at the Board level.”

Congratulations to the Capitol Region Equestrians, for their success, and for giving a master class in community involvement, advocacy and engagement.