3 For All: Progressing and Finessing the Three Stage Mountain Bike Trail Network

The future of Three Stage is being decided in what seems the most unlikely of places: an office in Wasaga Beach. At the Ontario Parks regional headquarters, we watch a powerpoint presentation on the ecological significance of Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, home of the Three Stage trails. It’s Parks staff versus mountain bikers. Only there is no versus.

 

Meagan Broughton getting deep in the woods of Three Stage. Photo: Colin Field

In fact, the government officials and the mountain bikers want the same thing: a sustainable trail network that can continue to offer some of the best singletrack in the province.

“There has been a lot of illegal trail building that has occurred throughout the years,” says Ben Dasti, the Assistant Park Superintendent at Wasaga Beach and Craigleith Provincial Parks. “In fact, it’s all technically illegal. We’re just trying to get a handle on it. We realize it’s there, it’s not going anywhere. It’s something that we don’t want to give the axe to and shut down, because it is beneficial to the community and Ontario Parks. But at the same time we just need to get ahold of it a little bit better.”

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“When biologist Ron Gould gets into the species list of Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, it starts to hit home. It’s an impressive list and one that is truly affected by a busy network of trails.”

So here’s the rub: The staff of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park isn’t only responsible for the park at the beach; it is also responsible for the management of Craigleith Provincial Park, Devils Glen Provincial Park, Nottawasaga Lookout Nature Reserve, Noisy River Nature Reserve, Duncan Escarpment Nature Reserve and Pretty River Valley Provincial Park. And it is the growing network of trails at Pretty River Valley that is being discussed.

With field biologist (and Ontario Parks Protected Areas Specialist) Ron Gould presenting to a number of interested parties, including Steve Varga, vice-president of the Collingwood Cycling Club, Jason Petznick and Sam Measures from Blue Mountain Resort, and Don Churchill of Kimberley Forest, it’s soon evident that what’s going on at Three Stage needs to be reigned in. And it’s no surprise. Anyone that has watched the growing popularity of the venue over the past decade, knows that something needs to be done. And now, hopefully, it is.

 

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT A small sampling of Pretty River’s biodiversity: Hart’s tongue fern; cerulean warbler; yellow spotted salamander; green heron. Photo: Ethan Meleg

Gould goes over the Provincial Parks & Conservation Reserves Act which is aimed at all things good: protecting ecosystems of all Ontario’s natural resources, maintaining biodiversity and providing opportunity for compatible, ecologically sustainable recreation, amongst other points. But it’s when he gets into the species list of Pretty River Valley Provincial Park that it starts to hit home. It’s an impressive list and one that is truly affected by a busy network of trails.

These sensitive species include the cerulean warbler, an endangered species whose population size is dropping faster than any other warbler species. They don’t like a lot of human activity. The Louisiana waterthrush is a threatened species that also doesn’t do well with human activities. Green herons and spotted salamanders are threatened species found at the park. And the Jefferson salamander (recently discovered in the park) is an endangered species facing imminent extinction.

Hart’s tongue fern is also a species at risk. It can be wiped out very quickly by invasive species. And guess how these invasive species, such as garlic mustard, wild chervil and phragmites are spread throughout a park? By trail networks, dirty bike tires and hiking boots.

So what’s to be done? Well, according to Parks staff, it isn’t all doom and gloom. And they don’t want to shut the trails down.

“We’re looking for a formal legal entity,” says Dasti. “One that can assist with trail maintenance, clean up days, invasive species days. We can work together with our biologist on trail-building exercises, assistance with trail closures and rerouting through sensitive habitats. We just need an organized entity that can be stewards for Pretty River Valley.”

 

The Halfpipe Trail. Photo: Glen Harris

Organizations like this aren’t unusual; a quick list of mountain bike clubs that successfully work with governmental organizations includes the Simcoe County Mountain Bike Club, the Turkey Point Mountain Bike Club and many more. Generally they are insured entities that protect the landowner and work with the landowners to create sustainable trail networks. Some require fees from club members, while others use grants (there are many available) to pay insurance fees.

But running these organizations is a thankless task full of mindless paperwork, endless frustration and bureaucratic red tape. Thankfully for everyone that loves riding at Three Stage, Steve Varga put his hat in the ring to be just that guy.

“The government officials and the mountain bikers want the same thing: a sustainable trail network that can continue to offer some of the best singletrack in the province.”

“If you give us the framework for what you need, we’ll just do it,” says Varga. “I’m eager to solve this.”

Dasti is quick to warn that these things take time. A similar organization just took three years to form over in Beaver Valley. But the Midhurst District Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry want to assist. They’ve loaned the Wasaga office a partnership specialist to assist and facilitate the creation of just such a group. As of press time, that group barely exists. Varga has enlisted the help of Claire Woodhouse and Ben McNabb, but so far that’s about it.

“We have a few issues,” says Varga. “We have to create the company. We need to sort out funding. I would like to create a model that doesn’t ask riders for money.”

And while Varga’s vision of the company is a nice one, in reality, it’s a long way from existence. He needs volunteers.

“I need cool, calm and collected people that are reliable,” says Varga. “It’s so early. We’re looking for executive material, for people that have an interest, people that understand how to put these organizations together. And that’s the stage we’re at.”

If what happens at Three Stage is important to you, it’s a great time to get involved. Track down Steve Varga. He may be looking for you. For now, the future of Three Stage is in all of our hands.

 

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