The president of a local trail group is pointing a finger at the regional district following a serious dirt bike accident on the KVR trail.
Leona Guerster, who leads the Vermilion Trail Society and has declared she is a candidate for mayor in Princeton, took to social media to warn trail users and make her case for giving the VTS a trail stewardship agreement.
At the same time, representatives from the RDOS maintain they are correctly fulfilling their responsibilities to the province, and cannot be held to account for mishaps occurring on the provincially-owned corridor.
They also state the VTS isn’t qualified to perform trail maintenance up to provincial standards.
“The trail is in very poor condition,” declared Guerster in a post to local Facebook groups.
“[The RDOS] are responsible and accountable for any and all incidents and consequently possible legal actions…The RDOS has made it very clear to Vermilion Trail Society that we are not to touch the KVR trail.”
Last Monday a 32-year-old man was airlifted to Kamloops General Hospital Tuesday after he crashed his dirt bike on the KVR north of Tulameen.
According to RCMP Corporal Chad Parsons the rider lost control of his bike as he approached an area of the trail that had been washed out during spring flooding. Parsons said “being unfamiliar with the area may have been a factor” in the accident.
Mark Woods, community services manager for the RDOS, said everyone regrets Monday’s accident, but trail users assume risk.
“Nobody likes to see an accident on the trail,” he said. “[Riders] make a conscious choice to go out on these trail corridors. These are not assets that are built for high speed ATV and dirt bike use. It’s a former rail corridor. It’s not a roadway. It’s not maintained that way and generally speaking there is an element of risk and people need to be aware of that.”
In an interview with The Spotlight Guerster said the VTS, which has made unsuccessful applications to the RDOS to acquire a trail stewardship agreement, is willing to devote its volunteer forces to work on the trail.
“I just shake my head. I can’t understand why any government entity wouldn’t be jumping up for joy. We will volunteer to do the work,” she said.
But according to Woods, the province – which actually owns the trail – has advised that VTS does not meet its standards for trail maintenance.
The society worked with the province for several years before it passed off some responsibility for the trails to the regional district. When the RDOS became the trail’s local operator it met with several trail groups to discuss possible maintenance contracts. “The province had some fairly significant issues” with the VTS’ efforts on the trail, said Woods. He added the district has dealt with several “changes in leadership” at the VTS.
“We are not in a position to have individuals or organizations do work on our behalf without approval from the province of BC.”
Specifically, Woods said provincial representatives were unhappy that VTS members graded sections of the trail with large equipment. Some areas were widened, top soil was removed and settled into areas that interfered with drainage systems. In some cases large rocks and boulders were uncovered.
“If I could boil it down, this is a provincially owned asset. If the province is going to have anyone working on it on our behalf they have standards that have to be met.”
Woods said in the past the VTS and other trail groups were approached with provincial guidelines and expectations for trail maintenance.
“They [the province] walked us all through what the maintenance schedule looks like and basically how you can go about touching the KVR trail without negative outcomes. The group didn’t feel that they wanted to do that.”
Woods said the RDOS is responsible for general trail maintenance that includes things like cleaning, cutting weeds and re-decking bridges. However for significant repairs, like after a washout or a landslide, the district has to consult the province so the government can make decisions and secure the funds.
“We don’t put that back on the local taxpayer.”
Woods said the washout area close to the recent accident was reported to the RDOS by trail users, but staff did not have a chance to assess the damage.
“This is a very unfortunate situation that happened north of Tulameen. We want to be able to be on top of those things as quick as we can…It’s just capacity. We can’t be at all places,” he said, adding that this year’s extreme flood conditions continue to stretch the district’s resources.
Residents from Tulameen have now taped off the area as a warning to other riders.
Guerster has been president of the VTS for just over a year, and said she couldn’t comment on past maintenance or discussions with the RDOS.
She characterized her dealings with the RDOS as “very painful and very frustrating…Let’s move on people.”
The accident should not have happened, she said.
“An individual was hurt and this was completely avoidable. The RDOS needs to live up to its steward agreement or allow a group that is willing to do so with little to no grant monies.”
Guerster said she was told the RDOS is reluctant to work with VTS because the society is presently suing the Town of Princeton over ownership of an antique caboose.
“I don’t find that acceptable especially when this [the caboose] is nothing to do with the trail and nothing to do with the RDOS.”
Bob Coyne, Area H director, said the caboose lawsuit complicates the situation.
“It’s part of it. The Town of Princeton is a part of the RDOS. They are a member of the RDOS…It’s kind of hard to have a relationship with somebody that is in a legal conflict with one of your own members.”
He said users cannot expect the trail to be maintained like a public roadway.
“All I can say is that it’s a sad day when people are getting hurt. But people need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for their actions.
“The trail was never, never designed for high speed traffic. It was never designed for motorized traffic so people who are using it do so at their own risk. It is public land and people have to be cognizant that there is nobody out there monitoring it and signing it for these things.”
For Guerster, the issue is part of the ongoing disagreement about motorized vehicles on BC trails.
“Our issue with the stewardship agreement is not unique in this province…It seems to be a real agenda with certain individuals that do not want to see mixed use on the trails,” she said.
“We support mixed trail use The trail is paid for by taxpayers and the trail should be used by everyone.”
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